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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

How to win friends and influence people

When the Vice Chancellor of Swansea University announced the closure of five departments in January 2004 there were massive protests. Many people objected to the loss of Sociology, Anthropology, the Centre for Development Studies, Philosophy and Chemistry. I joined in by making my objections known.

As a result the University Visitor was asked to carry out an independent review of the proposals. That investigation is still on-going and has understandably produced some frustration amongst the senior management team. The petition to the Visitor drew heavily upon the expertise and work of two Philosophy lecturers, Colwyn Williamson and Mike Cohen.

Now the Western Mail reports that Colwyn Williamson has been suspended. He has been denied access to his university email account and banned from campus. The ban follows a police investigation into allegations about 'hacking' into computers at the campus, made over a year ago. Police raided Mr. Williamson’s home at 7.30am on St David's Day. They took away equipment including CDs belonging to his 12-year-old daughter. Later the police agreed to take no further action after he agreed to a caution. This is a long-standing matter and is unrelated to the dispute, however I understand that other matters are being brought into the disciplinary investigation that may extend the period of suspension.

Earlier this month, Cefin Hayward, a member of Swansea's Student Action Committee Against Closures, was summoned to a police station. He was interviewed regarding a complaint under the Harassment Act of 1997 relating to posters he had allegedly placed on the campus depicting the vice-chancellor with a pointed or elongated head. He was released without any charge with a warning about future behaviour in relation to posters.

A number of students protested against the suspension of Colwyn Williamson outside a recent Senate meeting. Their presence was considered to be intimidatory and the meeting was abandoned. In the confusion that followed the announcement by the Vice Chancellor that the Senate meeting was to be terminated prematurely, a student member allegedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision in robust terms. He has now been charged with an internal university disciplinary offence.

There is a pattern here that brings into question the commitment of a major educational institution, supposedly the home of academic freedom, to the fundamental right to protest and to express dissent. A series of disciplinary measures and complaints to the Police against protestors does not create a good image for the College, no matter what the justification. This is not the way to win friends and influence people.

Update: According to this site the Vice Chancellor has now threatened 'discipline/dismissal' against the Treasurer of the AUT. Astonishing!
Interesting to note that Williamson and Cohen were the same two lecturers the University tried to gag in the early 90s when there was the scandal over the Philosophy department.
Again this sort of behaviour is shocking. It escapes me why there is not an open-decision making process in place where those concerned (students and faculty) are consulted on such a large number of closure. I am sure that a reevaluation with proper open processes would produce a more satisfactory result.
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