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Searle’s Idea of a University



Colwyn W’illiamson
The following remarks are about the nature of
universities and their supposed political neutrality,
about relations between students and teachers, and
about the notion of the ‘academic’. To gain a foothold in the problems arising from these topics, I
will focus attention on a book written by an American
philosopher, John Searle. Concentrating on this
book, The Campus War, may require some justification.

It will be said that it is a poor book, and this is
true; but the views it tries to articulate are so
typical that it will surely be useful to bring them
into the open and subject them to some scrutiny.

with the need that students have, it is said, to feel
part of a community, the religious impulse makes it
necessary that there should be an enemy. ‘Both the
creation of intense feelings of community within the
student movement and the pursuit of the sacred goals
require an adversary. Someone must play the role of
the enemy.’ (p.IS)

Most of Searle’s book is concerned with characterising student discontent and with his proposals about
how to deal with this discontent. This part contains
almost nothing in the way of explicit argument, but it
is interesting from a methodological point of view,
because it provides a striking example of a phenomenon that is always hard to define but which might be
called argument by innuendo. Ostensibly concerned
only with description and a kind of ordering of the
data, it conjures up and flows from a whole prior
commitment that is deeply and instinctively conservative. Searle’s hostility to all forms of radical
change emerges, not in the stating of a position with
its supporting reasons, but in the characterisation of
opponents and the method of presentation. This part
of his book has little argumentative force. Regarded
formally, the argument tends either to beg the question
or to support one aspect of the status quo with some
other aspect of exactly the same status quo. This
does not mean that the book is ineffective: it is
entertaining for those who share its assumptions and
demoralising for those who do not.

Searle says that student discontent constitutes
a ‘religious movement’, no doubt aware that this will
cause offence. But it is a religious movement with
certain special features; for Searle allow in the same
breath that it has nothing to do either with any
church or with any belief in the supernatural. What
he means by describing it in this way is rather that
it is concerned with the ‘search for the sacred’.

But the ‘sacred’, it turns out, has nothing to do with
religion either. What the ‘search for the sacred’

means is that ‘young people have a need to believe in
something and to act on behalf of something that they
regard as larger than themselves. They need goals
that they can regard as sbmehow transcending their
own immediate needs and desires; these goals make more
tolerable the mediocrity and insignificance of their
daily lives.’ (p.14)
This ‘need to believe’ is described by Searle as
a basic need possessed by all human beings; and it is
a methodological assumption of his work that ‘the
religious impulse – the search for the_sacred – is
primary, and is not to be explained as a derivation
from some other motive or set of motives.’ (p.IS)
This basic need partly explains why it is that
students see themselves as having opponents. Together


It is in this respect, according to Searle, that
student reformers of today differ most sharply from
those of yesteryear. ‘When I was an activist student
leader’, Searle explains, ‘We were constantly seeking
the cooperation of other groups, even though they
did not share our general outlook’. Today’s unrest,
he says, is very different from the days when
student violence was confined to ‘”rags”, riots after
football games, riots between competing groups of
students, attacks by student groups on the out side
community’. All of these, Searle laments, ‘have been
replaced by forms of unrest that constitute challenges
to the authority of the campus administration’. (p.16)
It is because an adversary is necessary to meet
the basic religious impulse and the need to feel part
of a community that it is futile to offer any
compromises. As Searle puts it, ‘efforts at compromise
are doomed to failure simply because any compromise
with the evil enemy is regarded by the militants as
morally unacceptable’. (p.16)
Searle’s approach to student unrest has certain
peculiarities, some of which I will touch upon.

Searle makes much of the ‘methodological assumption’ that human beings have a basic need, the
‘religious impulse’. Whatever one may feel generally
about the intelligibility of speaking this way, its
explanatory force in the particular case is somewhat
blunted by the assertion that previous generations
of students, or at least Searle’s own generation of
students, who were presumably possessed of the same
basic needs, did not act as today’s students do.

Driven by the same religious impulse, they managed
either to satisfy it differently or to ignore it
entirely in harmless pursuits such as rags, riots and
attacks on the outside community. They were equally
religious, but they did not question authority.

What is more curious than this talk of basic
needs itself is the way in which these needs are
portrayed as exerting themselves upon the course of
events. It is because an adversary is required that
one appears. How does this explanation work? One
drinks a glass of water in order to quench one’s
thirst, at least this is sometimes why. This might
be described, I suppose, as satisfying a need though this way of putting it appears to take away
at least as much as it adds to the understanding.

In a similar way, Searle seems to suggest, the
adversary appears on the scene only in order to
satisfy the students’ need to have one. And it is
not that students find joy in the sense of solidarity
that flows from common struggle, but rather that the

common struggle is created in order to satisfy the
need for this sense of solidarity.

means by which children are educated, we should
remember that students are prepared for universities
by secondary education, and they are prepared for
secondary education by primary education. An education writer in The Times (27.2.7j) described a class
of thirty boys and girls in a comprehensive school
half-listening to a history lesson on the medieval
three-field system. ‘Everything about feudal England’ ,
this writer notes, ‘was presented from the point of
view of ‘” William Rufus, the Bishop of Ely, the
lord of the manor. It was innocently assumed that if
all 32 of us had been transported back to 1073 then
we should have been gay knights and paramours all.’

I would think that students are much like other
people in that they join together to fight for
certain ideas and objectives; and, in fighting for
these ideas and objectives, they encounter adversaries
who are opposed to their ideas and who do not want
them to achieve their objectives. I would also think
that, insofar as students’ ideas include that certain
powers are not justified and their objectives include
that these powers be taken away, their principal
adversaries will be those who presently possess these
powers, who believe that these powers are in the hands
of the best of all possible men, and who do not wish
for them to be taken away. In Searle’s account,
however, the adversary is a kind of epiphenomenon,
a figment constructed out of basic needs. One pities
the unfortunate administrator or senior academic upon
whom this phantom is visited.

When it comes to his own ideology Searle would
probably claim that he is a ‘liberal’, which means
that he is a conservative of the petit-bourgeois
variety. From this viewpoint on life, extremes of
right and left seem somehow the same and politics
is all a bit of a puzzle. The war in Vietnam is
unintelligible, since everyone wants to end it, but
it somehow keeps on going: ‘.the leaders of both
major parties agree on the need to end it, but
somehow the institutional apparatus does not seem to
respond; somehow we have been unable to disengage’ .

ep .151) So far as he can tell, rkCarthyism and
radicalism are really much the same, by which it
turns out that he means they are similar in ‘form’

and ‘style’. He says that ‘it is tempting, and I
think rewarding, to compare this style of rhetoric
(the ideas of student militants) with the HcCarthyite witchhunts of the 1950s’. ‘Even more striking
than the similarities in the formal structure of the
rhetoric are the similarities in the style in which
the arguments are presented’. By ‘similarity in
style’ is meant that ‘both are presented with the
passionate conviction that our side is right and the
other side not only wrong but evil’. (p.25) I am
reminded here of what Trotsky said about the comparison
between the Jesuits and the Bolsheviks, namely that
it reveals what it is to look at a ‘fanatic warrior’

through the eyes of a ‘slothful shopkeeper’.

The adversary, then, is an artifice constructed
out of students’ needs. In a similar way, confrontations with authority arise to meet the need that
students have to feel that they are part of a
community. An unsophisticated person might think
that the ‘flying pickets’ of the recent miners’ strikes
were devised to help win the strike. John Searle is
a trained philosopher: he would probably be able to
persuade such a person that the strike was devised
in order that miners might sample the pleasures of
the flying picket.

It is characteristic of Searle’s argument by
innuendo that the ideas informing the struggle are not
mentioned or are mentioned only in such a style as to
make plain that any level-headed person would find
them absurd. The trouble with students, as we have
seen, is that they seek goals which transcend
immediate needs and desires. They are also, it seems,
reluctant to compromise with evil. These peculiar
attitudes naturally give rise to odd political ideas:

‘the widespread student revolts seem to lack any
common platform, and indeed they often appear to
concern matters only marginally related to the vital
interests of students as students.’ (p.18). Students
often fail to do justice to the issues that Searle
knows are the really important ones: ‘in the United
States the most common Sacred Topics are race and the
war in Vietnam. It is perhaps depressing that civil
liberties and academic freedom are not Sacred Topics.’


Searle is so much impressed by an alleged
‘formal’ similarity and an alleged similarity in
‘style’ that he does not appear to notice a fundamental difference of substance. So it is that
‘liberals’ like Searle will tell you in all apparent
seriousness, and as though they expected you to
believe they were pacifists, that picketer and policeman are essentially the same because both use
‘violence’. It is of course relatively unimportant
that the picketer is out to win the strike and the
policeman to defeat it.

This strange neglect of immediate desires and
vital interests is no doubt a product of students’

immaturity. A crisis of authority, Searle explains,
is a’ situation in which people ask ‘Why should I do
what you tell me to do? Why should I take orders
frem you?’ As a philosopher, Searle confesses, he is
inclined to think that such questions are excellent.

As an administrator, on the other hand, he finds
himself increasingly irritated by ‘the constant
demand that one justify oneself before an adolescent
mentality and mode of sensibility.’ (p.155)

It is part of Searle’s ‘liberal’ ideology that
he is able to see himself as defending the rights of
dissenting minorities. Because of the prevailing
extremism, he complains, ‘unpopular and dissenting
views, such as support of the war or racism, have, in
recent years, become impossible to express publicly on
the major college campuses, and I fear this condition
will continue.’ (p.25) This is a theme to which
Searle returns much later in the book when he is
dealing with academic freedom. Here he gives J S Hill
the credit for assigning a special place to ‘the
right to dissent’. As an example of how this ‘right
to dissent’ is being undermined, he says ‘I do not
believe that at present George Wallace, or any other
prominent raCist, could give a public speech on a
major campus and be guaranteed a safe and dignified
hearing’. (p.192) It is inevitable that he should
invoke in this context the cliche ascribed, falsely,
to Voltaire: ‘I disapprove of what you say but will
defend to the death your right to say it’. (p.193)

11ilitant students, we are told, subscribe to an
‘holistic ideology’ which regards the structure of
power in society as ‘a seamless fabric’, so that
universities are seen as ‘part of the very fabric of
the po,,,er structure’. (p. 23) What is scandalous about
this ideology, one assumes, is that it implies the
alarming notion that universities are bourgeois
institutions peddling bourgeois ideas in a bourgeois
society. In reality, of course, very few student
mi li tants rise to this level of insight; and, as for
the majority of students, they are usually almost as
indifferent as their teachers to war, poverty, unemployment, oppression and the other sufferings of

The fact that students are by no means as
enlightened as Searle accuses them of being should
not surprise us. l:ven if we speak only of the educational system itself, which is to neglect most of the


Philosophers are of course justly renowned for
using words in new ways, but Searle breaks new ground
in the use he finds for the word ‘dissent’. In a
society which is deeply racist and which is currently
conducting a war, how can it be sensible to describe
as ‘dissent’ the advocacy of racism and the intensification of the war? And, with regard to Voltaire,
it is very hard to suppress a smile at the suggestion

that university teachers, who are after all not
famous for being prepared to defend anything even to
the point of inconvenience, let alone death, might
suddenly offer up their lives so that the racist may
preach race-hatred and the warmonger war. It may be
possible fOe someone who does not believe in the
existence of evil, and who is against passionate
conviction, to talk of glving a ‘dignified hearing’

to the Hi tIers, Wall aces and Powells of this world.

Others will find this language as grotesque as the
morality it represents. Is it intended to be a nightmare, this picture of rows of liberal academics
giving a calm and dignified hearing to someone who is,
say, inciting others to dispose of the Jews?

‘argument is vain in dealing I”i th him’. (Counci 1
for Academic Freedom and Democracy Report, p. 3)
Those who chide radicals with not being rational
usually have ideas of rationality closely bound up
with the status quo, their premises are about the
present, their arguments are from what happens no\”
or has happened in the past. It is not surpri si ng,
therefore, that they tend to find the advocates of
change irrational and to attrihute radical ideas to
some kind of malfunctioning of the brain or disorder
of the mental atmosphere.

Thrwghout Searle’s book, those responsible for
subversion and disruption are rebuked, at least hy
implication, for not really understandi ng “hat a
university is all about. This underlying conception
of what a university is IHe or should he like IS
not made explicit until the sixth of the seven
chapters making up the book. Here, in the chapter
on Academic Freedom, Searle outlines what he calls
‘the theory of the university’. According to this
‘theory’, univeTsities are dIstinguished hy a mMher
of characteristics having to do with their purpose,
the relationship with the general community, and the
status of the persons in them.

‘The universi ty’ ,
Searle says, ‘is an institution designed for the
advancement and dissemination of knowledge’. lIe
adds to this, perhaps thinking it is merely a different way of saying the same thing, that ’tile purpose
of the un1ver5ity is to benefit tl1e commurl1t~’ Imich
created and maint a1n5 . it, and mankind in general,
through the advancement and dissellination of
knowledge’. (p. 170)

I described Searle’s method as argument by
innuendo. What this means is that he systematically
characterises people and their ideas in ways that
insinuate the view, which is never explicitly argued
for, that those who hold radical ideas are fraudulent,
insincere or deranged.

In one place he denies that this is his intention,
saying that his account ‘is not inconsistent with the
obvious explanation that the young people in question
were motivated genuinely by hatred of the war, and
horror at racial injustice. The characterisation of
student radicalism as a quasi-religious movement is
not intended to imply that the radical views are
either false or 1nsincerely held; on the contrary, it
is intended to explain much of the peculiar intensity
and fanaticism of radical attitudes.’ (p.69) I have,
I hope, already given enough examples of Searle’s
method at work to indicate that this disclaimer is
quite unconvincing. It is all very well to say, on
page 69, that this has never been his intention, but
everything he has said on the previous 68 pages, and
much bf what he goes on to say in the remaining pages,
amounts to a description which is only appropriate,
which only makes sense, if we assume that those
described are deeply deluded and irrational. Without
this assumption, all the. remarks about accepting
radical ideas being like religious conversion (p.55),
about passionate convictions, about not compromising
with evil, and so on, are simply incongruous.

From this, taken together with the fact that
professional academics have special competence in
some area of study, it follows, Searle thinks, that
‘the university is not a democracy where all have
equal rights; it is an aristocracy of the trained
intellect’. (p.171) What this means, he explains,
is that ‘because the professor is supposed to know
more than the students about the methods and >resul ts
of his subjects, he, not they, is put in charge of
the labs, the courses, the grades etc.’ (p.171)
Certain ‘rights’ follow from this, in particular that
‘professors should have the right to teach, conduct
research, and publish their research without
interference, and that students should have the
corresponding right to study and learn’. (p.170)
Teachers and students also have certain general rights
in their roles as ‘citizens in a free society’,
namely the ‘rights of free expression, freedom of
inquiry, freedom of association, and freedom of
publication’. (p.175) But these freedoms may need
‘to be restricted to preserve the academic and
subsidiary functions of the university.” (p.175)
Interferences of this kind ‘have to be justified in
terms of the theory of the university’. (p.176)
Let me take an example which deserves to be quoted
in full:

Perhaps Searle should have been willing openly
to maintain that those who hold radical ideas are
incorrigibly irrational. Certainly this would have
placed him in familiar company; for one of the most
common reactions of those in authority when they are
first confronted with demands for change is to say
that they would have been interested in ‘rational
discussion’, but that they cannot countenance the
unseemly manner in which the demands are currently
being made. It is partly in order to make this
point, by the way, that Peter Weiss in Marat/Sade
depicts the masses as patients in a lunatic asylum,
the idea being that respectable society cannot .

comprehend social discontent and sees it as a kind of
‘possession’ – either the workings of dark, conspiratorial forces or a variety of madness. (After the
black riots in Watts, the US government set up a team
of psychologists to produce an explanation.)
The ideology of ‘rational discussion’ is
extremely interesting. On the surface, it appears
to manifest a sudden enthusiasm for logic, a desire
for cogent argument and, perhaps, a calm method of
presentation. This, however, proves to be an
illusion, as anyone who takes the trouble to layout
his radical ideas carefully on the page and drain
them of emotion will soon discover. Someone prepared
to pretend that passion is regrettable will not find
that a cool presentation gets him very far. For
‘rationality’, he will find, really amounts to ‘being
realistic’ and ‘sensible’; and being realistic really
amounts to continuing much as before; and an
‘irrational discussion’ is one in which the wrong
ideas prevail. If you study the recent case of
political victimisation, that of David Craig, you
will find that, although other commentators found
him rational and altogether pretty normal in manner,
the Head of his department had discovered that


… the student has the same rights of free
speech on the campus that he has off the
campus, but the exercise of his free speech
is legitimately regulated by the educational
needs of the university. He does not have
free speech while the professor is lecturing;
he can only speak when called upon by the
professor to do so; and when the professor
tells him to shut up so that the lecture can
continue he is under an obligation to comply.

The classroom does not entitle the student to
‘equal time’ with the professor. Similarly,
the professor does not have unlimited free
speech in the classroom. He is only entitled
to lecture on the subject of the course or
lecture series, and he is not entitled to use
the classroom for, say, political propaganda.

If he reconstitutes his lecture series as a
political indoctrination session, he both
violates the academic freedom of the student
and abuses his academic freedom as a professor.


If I have understood Searle correctly, the rights
described here again follow from the two principles
previously asserted, the expertise of the teacher
and the purpose of the university. That ‘political
indoctrination’ may not be allowed into the classroom presumably follows from the fact that the
university is designed for the pursuit of knowledge,
and the right of the teacher to say when students
may speak and when they may not speak presumably
follows from this taken together with the fact that
the teacher is the expert in the pursuit of knowledge.

It follows further, perhaps as a generalisation of
what has been said about indoctrination not being
permitted in the classroom, that the university as
an institution must be politically neutral.

partly because it comes only after he has completed
his ‘theory of the university’, partly because it is
made so casually and without elaboration. Because
it comes after the ‘theory of the university’, it
would surely be all too easy for an innocent reader
to imagine that Searle is describing existing
universities in his ‘theory’. And it is even more
curious that Searle does not elaborate on the
possibility that existing universities do not in
this case fit his ‘theory’: one would expect him to
be eager to discover the extent to which his ‘theory’

has any application to the real world.

But there is more to this than meets the eye.

Prior to the sudden admission that existing universities might not be at all like his ideal, Searle had
obtained a number of deductions from his theory.

He had deduced, for instance. that students shoUld
shut up when the professor tells them to. But these
students and this professor were, or so it seemed at
the time, real people who walked about on the surface
of the earth, ate up their crusts to make their hair
curly, and had aunts living in Bishop Auckland. When
Searle said that students must be quiet, he was
surely talking to actual students who had, in his
experience, shown some inclination not to be quiet.

Surely he was trying to prove that these students are
wrong? Perhaps he only meant that, if there were an
ideal university, and if it contained ideal professors and students, then and only then would students
have to be ideally quiet. If he meant this, he
should have said so. Otherwise, there is a real
danger that an ethereal university is being used
to intimidate flesh-and-blood students.

The first question that needs to be asked about
Searle’s ‘theory of the university’ concerns its
status, what kind of theory it is supposed to be.

Is it intended to be a description of universities?

When Searle says that the university is an institution designed for the advancement and dissemination
of knowledge, does he mean this to be understood as
a compressed account of the origins and history of
universities? Is it the story of the motives of the
founders or universities, or their administrators
through the ages, of their administrators today, of
the governments which nowadays create and finance
them? Or is it rather that we are to take Searle as
describing the function of universities, what they
actually do; so that the purpose of a university is
to disseminate knowledge as the purpose of a canopener is to open cans? It is nowhere clear in
Searle’s account precisely which of these possibilities he has in mind. His method is idealist in the
sense that he seems to be trying to deduce the actual
university from the idea of a university. One might
say that he begins with a definition of the university.

But to say this is still not to see what kind of
definition is involved, or how we are supposed to
evaluate it. As any kind of description, whether of
origins, motives, or function, it is, looked at in
one way, simplified to the point of falsity, and,
looked at in another way, rather vacuous. It would
be naieve to characterise the motives of those
responsible for bringing about the dramatic increase
in higher education during the last decade
exclusively, or even primarily, in terms of the
desire to disseminate knowledge. Those who brought
it about did not even describe their own motives in
this way, preferring to see the growth in higher
education as an essential ingredient of the ‘whitehot technological revolution’ which was to transform
the country’s productive capacity.

It is regrettable that Searle does not embark
upon a serious analysis of the extent to which the
real world fits his ideals. He might have discovered
that there is a gap between the two. and this would
have committed him to advocating change; and, if the
gap proved to be considerable. he would even be
committed to that radicalism of which he so much
disapproves. Of course, this is far-fetched in
Searle’s own case; his whole book is filled with
the spirit of a man who is basically comfortable in
the world as he finds it. But there must be some
people who feel that a university should be a place
that is in some sense dedicated above all to the
pursuit of knowledge and who are on that account
repelled by existing universities, seeing them as
being preoccupied instead with careerism, status,
the service of a corrupt society, and a million other
concerns extrinsic to the pursuit of knowledge
itself .

And the systematic squeeze on financial resources
for research has not been motivated by anything having
to do with the advancement of knowledge: it is
perfectly plain that it has much more to do with the
need to increase the flow of technologically qualified
students into industry. Obviously, similar difficulties arise if we attempt to describe, not the motives
of those who create or finance universities, but the
function of universities, what they actually do.

Are universities more preoccupied with the dissemination of knowledge than with, say, the preparation and
training of employees? I am not suggesting that this
is a simple question, or that it has a simple answer.

But Searle himself certainly presents no evidence on,
let us say, the extent to which the education of
metallurgy students is structured according to the
need to be employed in certain capacities afterwards.

Now it may be that Searle does not mean to
describe universities as they actually are, but only
as he would have them to be. On this reckoning,
what he is about is the outlining of an ideal
university to which real universities mayor may not
approximate. This interpretation is encouraged by
the rather sudden claim he makes on page 204 that he
does not ‘mean to suggest that existing universities
attain the ideal of the aristocracy of the intellect;
often they are an aristocracy of degrees, prizes and
publications.’ (my emphases) This claim is puzzling,

As we sa’!, Searle says that the purpose of a
university also includes benefiting the community
which created and maintains is, and mankind in
general. All of this is very unclear. There are
senses in which disseminating knowledge and serving
the community could be conflicting requirements.

There are senses in which serving the community and
benefiting it might be different, and senses in
which benefiting a community and benefiting mankind
in general represent opposed aspirations. All of
this would need to be sorted out before it would be
possible to pass judgement on Searle’s theory.

Perhaps the sort of consideration he has in mind is
indicated in what he clearly regards as a decisive
criticism of those who favour what he calls,
derisively, ‘the youth city’, one feature of which
is to be that it is democratic. With an air of
triumph, he asks, ‘where is· the money supposed to
come from?’ That he regards this question as decisive,
which is bound up with what he calls the prudential
argument for political neutrality, gives some indication of what he has in mind when he speaks of the


Even if Searle’s definition of a university
were acceptable and if we allowed for the existence
of special competence among professional academics,
it would still not be possible to deduce the rights
that he thinks can be deduced. In the first place,

there is something odd about the ‘rights’ themselves.

Professors have the right to teach, conduct research,
and publish their research without interference.

Students have what is called the ‘corresponding
right’ to study and learn. This may sound a little
like saying that officers have the right to command
and soldiers have the corresponding right to obey.

Be this as it may, it is still not satisfactory to
say that the right of a teacher to teach is derived
from the expertise he possesses in some subject.

This is, perhaps, what qualifies him to teach, or
part of what qualifies him to teach, but it does not
give him the right to teach. As a matter of fact,
‘the right to teach’ doesn’t seem to make any sense
at all. When one talks of, say, the right of work,
this means that there should be no unemployment and
that every man should be able to earn the means to
support himself and his family; but to say that
everyone has the right to teach, or that he who
teaches has the right to teach, all seem equally
absurd. Of course, teaching is what a teacher does:

to add that he thereby has the right to do what he
does is simply not true.

The idea of academic expertise will not carry
anything like the weight with which Searle seeks to
burden it. He believes that, because the professor
knows more about his subject than the student, it
necessarily follows that the student can speak only
when the professor gives him permission, that the
classroom does not entitle the student to ‘equal time’,
and that the student must shut up when he is told to.

This, however, is plainly false. It is perfectly
possible for there to be a system of education, with
teachers possessed of expertise, where students do
have the right to ‘equal time’, or whatever. It is
possible for there to be a system, and perhaps there
have been such systems, where the student is obliged
to have ‘equal time’. (It may be that the medieval
teaching of philosophy through the game of Obligation
was rather like this.) It is even possible that
tutorials ruld seminars are, or should be, like this.

It is stupid to suggest that any right I may have to
tell a student to shut up is derived from, let us say,
my greater knowledge of the geography of Arabia.

There could be a system of education in which it is
granted that I have greater knowledge, but I do not
have the right to tell a student to shut up. It
should, therefore, be quite obvious that the rights
claimed by Searle do not in fact derive from academic
expertise alone, if indeed they have anything to do
with it.

The situation is not markedly improved by adding
the further premise that the purpose ~f a university
is to pursue and disseminate knowledge, and this is
partly why I said earlier that this claim has a way
of looking vacuous. For knowledge may be pursued and
disseminated in different ways, and different educational institutions may embody different conceptions of
how this should be done. Searle is to
countenance only a system within which, essentially,
the role of one man is to talk and that of another is
to listen. Fortunately, the possibilities are not
exhausted by the. narrow horizons of people like Sear le.

It may be thought that, despite these objections,
the general intent of Searle’s theory can be saved by
saying that, although there might be universities in
which, for example, students did have the right to
‘equal time’, this could only be if it somehow also
flowed from the special expertise of the teacher meaning, perhaps, if he thought it desirable. But
this is not true either. Academics, all of them
having received more or less the same training, may
disagree about the matters mentioned by Searle; they
may have very different ideas about what courses should
be taught or studied, and about how these should be
taught or studied. In disagreeing in this way, are
they disagreeing about what has to do exclusively
with academic expertise? One man finds it natural
and proper that students should for the most part be
seen and not heard, another finds this wrong. Is the 21
disagreement purely academic? Obviously it is about

an academic matter, but is it one that can be resolved
by academic expertise? It would be more correct to
see it as having to do with much more general
differences of attitude.

It may be said that, although this sometimes
happens in practice, it ought not to. An academic
may be influenced in what he says of academic matters
by his moral and political attitudes, but this is
wrong in the way in which it would be wrong for a
judge to be influenced in his judgement of innocence
or guilt by the wealth and social standing of a
defendant. It is a small step from this to saying,
as it is said of the ‘agitators’ responsible for
industrial unrest, that people of this kind have an
ulterior motive. Thus, it was said of David Craig
that he was ‘recommending changes in”the examination
system as part of a Targer political design’.

(Council for Academic Freedom and Democracy Report,
To speak of an ulterior motive here is to mean
that the matter in hand is evaluated in terms of some
remote end; it is regarded as a means rather than an
end in itself. But this picture may be quite inappropriate, and it may be completely misleading to
see an academic’s judgement of academic matters as
being influenced by his moral and political attitudes.

His personal history might show that his attitudes
on academic matters came first and led to his general
attitudes, but this is not the point. What matters is
that the particular attitudes are constitutive of
the general ones.

The analogy with the judge is a serious one, but
it must be taken seriously. Judges are quite explicitly influenced in their judgement by the ‘character’

and ‘good standing’ of those in their courts, but what
they count as character and good standing is not
explicable in exclusively legal terms. Reforms in
the educational system are not brought about by teach~
ers as a whole, nor by teachers alone. If there is
an expertise in what makes for successful edutation,
it is not an expertise synonymous with, say, I·
expertise in the anatomy of the human body or the
human mind. Kings are kings, not philosophers.

Searle, as we have seen, suggests that the need
for neutrality is connected with the purpose of the
university, to disseminate knowledge, and he says
that the teacher must use the classroom for this
purpose, and not for indoctrination. The difficulty
with this is that, although everyone may agree that
it is undesirable, there may be considerable disagreement as to what constitutes political indoctrination.

A university teacher who defended the existing
system of examinations to students would not generally
be regarded in present university circles as having
introduced political considerations into the classroom.

Is there anyone naive enough to think that those who
criticise the existing system are treated in the same

Searle sees that ‘intellectual activity consists
of far more than discovering and broadcasting a set
of true propositions. It involves also the development and deployment of insight and understanding,
artistic creativity, aesthetic sensibility, and moral
discrimination. the development of literary tastes
in one’s students, for example, consists of far more
than inculcating in them a set of propositions or
beliefs.’ (p.203) It is here that we encounter a
phenomenon of the greatest importance. People who
hold radical views have political opinions; people
who hold conservative views do not have political
opinions at all. The newscaster who reports on the

activities of Mau-Mau or IRA ‘terrorists’ is not
putting forward any political opinions, but a newscaster rash enough to report on the activities of
the Mau-Mau or IRA freedom fighters would certainly
be guilty of departing from objectivity. It is
therefore the radical who is responsible for ‘introducing politics’ where they have no place. So it is

ments, their growth and the direction of this growth
is determined by governments, they take trainees
from industry and the military, they buy and sell
shares, they accept grants from industry, and they
carry out industrial and military research. In this
sphere, of course, the same principle applies as
that which applies to ideas. Those interactions with
the community that have a conservative effect are not
political at all; they are merely the obvious and
natural thing to do. Perhaps I can illustrate this
graphically with a small example. On the very day
that an article by me appeared in Socialist Worker
describing the way in which the British Steel Corporation is murdering the whole community of Ebbw Vale,
there also appeared on my desk a Newsletter of the
University College of Swansea advertising a British
Steel Corporation Fellowship. An. application who
could ‘satisfy the Corporation that his project is
relevant to the Corporation’s activities’, it said,
might be awarded up to £5,000 per annum. Searle in
one place suggests that political neutrality might
have to do with what is not controversial according
to a ‘social consensus’ (p.186), but this idea seems
to founder on the fact that the British Steel
Corporation is run by a handful of men, whereas Ebbw
Vale has a population of 28,000.

that David Craig was accused by the Head of his
department of introducing into his English literature
course ‘a doctrinaire approach’; Craig was ~aid to
be dealing with ‘the study of literature in its
relation to society’ in a ‘markedly ideological way’.

(Council for Academic Freedom and Democracy Report,
p.l) As evidp,nce of this was cited that two poems
of protest ag. nst war had been set for analysis,
the contention veing that ‘it would put invidious
pressure on studer,ts if they had to write about leftwing literature in ln exam set under the convenorship of a left-wing teacher’. (p.2) The assumption
here is of course consistent with the general
principle that only radicals have political opinions;
for it is obvious that it will not be invidious for
students to write about right-wing literature under
the convenorship of right-wing teachers. Searle would
agree more or less with the Head of Dr Craig’s
department about this. To be fair, he does not say
that members of the Communist Party cannot be teachers;
he regards this as belng based on the fallacy of
supposing that a member of the party will be serious
about it. ‘One might join the Communist party’ ,
Searle says, ‘as a way of annoying one’s stockbroker,
as a practical joke on one’s wife, as a way of
getting cheap lodging in New York, in the hope of
meeting lady FBI agents, as a means of making business
contacts, or for no good reason at a1l, just “for the
he1l of it”. And even i f one did join deliberately
with the intent of following the party line, one
might since the time one joined have changed one’s
mind or lost interest in the whole enterprise.’

(p.189-90) If any of these conditions prevail,
Searle allows, it would be perfectly alright for a
member of the Communist Party to be a teacher, though
it would still be correct for a university promotions
committee to inquire into whether he is ‘using the
classroom for indoctrination and propaganda’. (p.190)

Searle gives the problem of reconciling political
neutrality and serving the community a curious twist
by arguing for political neutrality from the need to
serve the community. This is what he calls the
‘prudential argument’ for neutrality: ‘the community
establishes, supports, and tolerates the university
… because the university serves certain educational
needs of the community. But as a specialized
institution it is not entitled to alter the terms of
its contract with society and still retain its
rights’. (p.184) What this ‘prudential argument’

amounts to concretely seems to me to have a lot to do
with the remark I quoted earlier, namely: where is
the money to come from? To this, Searle adds that,
if the university is not politically neutral, it
‘will be taken over by the strongest political forces
of the day’. In reality universities-have already
been taken over by the strongest political forces of
the day. This was, however, never rape; it was
always sweet surrender.

I will not comment on the rather entertaining
supposition apparently shared by Searle and the Head
of the English Department at Lancaster, that members
of the Communist Party are engaged in the subversion
of the established order. What is more important
than this is the role of the principle I have been
stressing, which here takes the form of assuming that
political ideas would be introduced if these were
communist ideas. Conservative ideas, it must be
understood, are simply ideas. Thus, to refer again
to the example of Dr Craig, the inclusion of some of
Orwell’s writings is evidence that political prejuduces are being brought in, but to exclude Orwell’s
writings is not evidence of anything. It may be
difficult to see this point because of the talk of
‘indoctrination’ and ‘propaganda’. Despite the
problems that undoubtedly arise about the distinction
between education and indoctrination, this is not
really what is at issue. It is perfectly possible to
agree that the purpose of education should be
education, not indoctrination, but this will not
usually deter those who wish to weed out the
communist indoctrinators in the education system.

I would myself wish to suggest that to speak of indoctrination is to speak, not of the ideas brought
into teaching, but of the method by which these ideas
are brought in. This is why argument is an essential
feature of an education that distinguishes itself from
indoctrination. In fact, educational institutions
can usefully be evaluated by the standard of the
extent to which they facilitate and do everything to
encourage argument and dialogue.

It is not clear how Searle’s view that the
university must be politically neutral meshes with
his fundamental premise that the university must
serve the community. I have already indicated that
‘serving the community’ is not an expression whose
meaning is written on its face, but it does bring out
the important point that the question of political
neutrality arises in many more contexts than have to
do with the content of courses. Universities are
large public institutions, and they interact with
the community in all sorts of ways that are
politically relevant. They are financed by govern-

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