March 13, 2014

Warwick suspends prominent critic of higher education policy

An academic who has been a prominent critic of higher education leadership and policy has been suspended by his university, although it has rejected claims the move is related to his politics.

Thomas Docherty, professor of English and comparative literature at Warwick and former head of the English department, is a member of the steering group of the Council for the Defence of British Universities and has written opinion pieces for Times Higher Education.

One academic suggested on Twitter that he had heard Professor Docherty had been “suspended indefinitely for anti-cuts activism”.

A spokeswoman for Warwick said: “The university would not normally comment on internal staffing issues. In this case however, given inaccurate reports elsewhere, we would wish to confirm that a member of academic staff has been suspended pending formal disciplinary process.

“Contrary to those inaccurate reports elsewhere, the disciplinary allegations in no way relate to the content of the individual’s academic views or their views on HE policy.”

Professor Docherty could not be contacted for comment. His articles for THE have criticised what he sees as the marketisation and bureaucratisation of higher education.

A 2013 article on mission groups described the Russell Group, of which Warwick is a member, as “a self-declared elite…even exerting a negative influence over others”.

He called mission groups “a polite version of a kind of gang warfare…The already strong have failed to defend those they deem weak.”

In 2011, he wrote of the “Clandestine University” in which “we find scholars and students who hold on to the idea of what a university is for, while the Official University…shows no concern for those fundamental values or principles”.

He continued: “In the laboratory or library, when our experiments or readings lead away from a simple rehearsal of what the grant application said we would do, then we divert from the terms of the grant and we engage, properly, in research. We do not find what we said we would. But we cannot officially say this.”

Also in 2011, he published For the University: Democracy and the Future of the Institution, described by Stefan Collini, professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge and another high profile critic of the higher education reforms, as “an avowed polemic… but none the worse for that”.

“If it helps to make more people aware of the contradictory and short-sighted way that universities are now discussed and managed in Britain (he mostly confines his attention to Britain), then it will more than earn its keep,” Professor Collini said in his review of the book.


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