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The Swansea Affair

RadicaIPhilosophy~_. _ _ _ __
system and those within society generally. For
when this happens contradictions are exposed.

So
too is the power of trade unionism – its capacity
to act in solidarity and to organise effective
opposi tion. And when this menacing power present’s
its face at the threshold of the academic sanctuary then it is time for the ‘appropriate college
authorities’ to step in and action gets taken which
no longer looks quite so liberal, quite so
Rational or quite so Objective.

If the centuries spent in the pursuit of philosophical enlightenment have not taught our liberal
ideologues how to penetrate their own sophistries;

Anyone who still harbours illusions (despite the
events at Kent and at Essex) about our universities
being havens from the harshness and vulgarity of
the class struggle should ponder on the nature of
the conflict being acted out at the University
College of SWansea. True enough, the context is
not that of the factory floor.

It is a university
philosophy department. And the personnel involved
cannot be neatly slotted into the categories of
workers or bosses.

In the university everyone is
an ‘academic’, all are members of the happy family
known as the ‘university community’. But the
labels are beginning to sound a little unconvincing
even on the lips of those who still profess belief
in them; and the veil of pretence to harmony with
which they cover over the actual contradictions that
exist both within the university and in its relations to the rest of society has grown increasingly
threadbare. The victimisation of Mike Weston and
Colwyn Williamson for their participation in union
activity has exposed these underlying contradictions
in a particularly acute and pertinent way.

It has pointed, above all, to the fact that
universities are political institutions. There are
controllers and controlled; there are elites and
exploited within their hallowed walls. That Weston
is sackedf9r lending support to the pay-claim of
an econom~.~11Y exploited group emphasises the
important role to be played by trade union organisation and militancy in relation both to such matters
as graduate pay and conditions and in regard to an
issue such as his own victimisati~n. The intimidating tactics of Professor Phillips and his colleagues
in the philosophy department at Swansea have served
to reveal more clearly than ever the necessity of
collective defence.

The clear intention of the Swansea authorities
to intimidate staff out of trade union affiliation
and activity is the tacit acknowledgement of their
awareness of the factors governing their continuing
control in the university, and an indication of the
extent to which they recognise the threat posed to
that position of dominance whenever radical dissent
is allowed to take anything more than purely verbal
form.

Of course, what worries these liberal elites is
not that there are union members taking tea in the
common room; to dispute the right to trade union
membership would, after all, hardly be consistent
with the liberal stance – and who can we rely on to
be logically consistent if not a liberal philosopher? No, what is worrying is when this right to
union membership gets ‘abused’: when the cardcarrying member turns up on the picket line, when
he actually pays heed to his union’s demands; when
his actions reveal that his joining the union was
motivated not merely by a kind of self-interested
concession to leftist ideas on the campus, but by
a genuine concern about exploitation, wherever it
occurs and whatever forms it takes, and by a real
awareness of the parallels between the relations
of hierarchy and dominance within the’ university

SWANSEA: The Story so far
January 21
Beginning of seven-week strike against the University College of SWansea by postgraduate tutors and
demonstrators, members of the Association df
Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS),
on the issues of improved remuneration and union
recognition. A later report by a Committee of
Inquiry set up by the Swansea and District Trades
Council comments on the ‘efficient and responsible’

way in which the College was picketed for 24 hours
a day and puts the blame for the dispute on the
College management’s hostility to trade unionism
and unwillingness to negotiate. The strike was

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if their attention to logical consistency in the
service of bourgeois apologetics has not been
m~tched by a similar attention to the facts of the
renl world; and if, at Swansea, Professor Phillips’

work in the fiel<.l of Moral Practices appears to
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have been a somewhat inadequate guide through the
muddier field of political practice, then radical
philosophy must expose and go on exposing the
reasons for this.

But what is at stake is not only the exposure
of the nature and source of production of ideological ideas in the university. There can be no
doubt that what is happening at Swansea has
revealed the crucial importance, for staff and
students fighting victimisation, of giving support
in all possible ways to their local labour movement by affiliating their organisations to local
Trade Councils and by building up close contacts
even in times of relative peace on the campus.

And in regard to the present situation at
Swansea we must show solidarity in concrete ways
with Williamson and with the students, staff and
unions who are acting on his behalf. Which means:

send messages of support to Williamson and the
Swansea R.P.G., and protests to the Chairman of
the Department of Philosophy, to the Appointments
Committee at Swansea and to the educational and
national press; attempt to ~et official support
from union branches, Trade councils, Labour Party
branches, philosophy departments, Staff Assemblies,
Student Unions and Radical Philosophy groups; and
initiate investigation of the staffing committees
and appointments policies in other universities.

,”

official, sanctioned by the Branch and Divisional
Council and the National Executive of ASTMS. ASTMS
, lecturers, in the same br;nch as the postgraduates,
were not asked to go on strike but were instructed
to help with the picketing. Backing was given to.

the strike by all the other trade unions in the
locality, and by the students Union.

June 17
The Registrar of the College writes to Mike Weston,
a lecturer in the~hilosophy Department and a
member of ASTMS. Weston is coming to the end of
his three-year probationary contract and is therefore being considered for tenure. The letter asks

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him to attend a meeting of the Joint Staffing and
Appointments Committee. No reason is given for this
request and, so far as is known, no-one being con~
sidered for tenure has been asked to attend a meeting of this committee before. Mike Weston telephones the Registrar to ask the purpose of the
meeting. The Registrar says that he does not know
the purpose of the meeting and suggests that Weston
might ask this question at the beginning of the
meeting itself. Graham Holderness, a lecturer in
the English Department, is also being considered for
tenure at this time. He receives a similar letter
from the Registrar. He is a branch official of
ASTMS.

June 28
The meeting of the Joint Staffing and Appoincments
Committee. The Principal of the College is in the
chair. About seventeen other members of the
Committee are present, some of them professors, the
rest lay members of the College Council. Holderness
is told at the outset that the purpose of the meetint is to decide whether he should be given tenure.

For the following hour he is interrogated about
nothing but his activities during the ASTMS strike.

No mention at any stage is made of his teaching or
research. Throughout the interview the strike is
referred to as ‘disruption’. Holderness expresses
regret about ever having got mixed up with a trade
union and undertakes to resign from the union, which
he subsequently does. He was granted a year’s

extension of his probationary contract.

During his interview, weston i~ accompanied by a
colleague from the Philosophy Department, H. O.

Mounce. Mounce is not a member of ASTMS and he is
opposed to the activities of the union. According
to Mounce and Weston, weston was informed at the
outset of ~he interview that the purpose of the
“,eating is to decide whether he is to’ be given
tenure. Weston was then interrogated for l~ hours
about his uuion membership and his role in the
strike, ~he strike being referred to throughout as
‘disruption’. ~Teston expresses the view that he
has a right to belong to a union and to take part
in official union activity. He is dismissed outright. He is later told by the Head of the philosophy De~artment, Professor D.Z. Phillips, that he
was selected for dismissal because it was known that
he was securing a job elsewhere and would therefore
make no protest while serving as a useful example
to other lecturers thinking of joining ASTMS.

July 16
Colwyn Williamson, a lecturer in the Philosophy
Department and the Branch Secretary of ASTMS, is
summoned to a meeting with Professor Phillips, Head
of the Philosophy Department. He is informed that
Professor Phillips is acting on the authority of
the Principal of the College, that a Committee of
Inquiry has been set up to investigate Williamson’s
conduct in relation to a boycott of examinations by
students in the Philosophy Department, and that the
Inquiry is to be based on a statement submitted to
Professor Phillips by one of the boycotting students
and taken by Professor Phillips to the Principal.

Williamson is told that ~e statement was entirely
unsolicited but h~, is refused any information ab~ut

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the contents of the statement or about the composition. Williamson writes to Professor Phillips and
to the Registrar immediately complaining that it
Was improper for him not to have been consulted
about the statement as a first step prior to any
further action being taken and asking to be shown
the statement now and to be given information about
the proceedings against him. He is given no fUrther
information at all. Meanwhile, Professor Phillips
informs other lecturers that there is an Inquiry
into Williamson’s conduct and expresses confidence
that Williamson will be dismissed before the beginning of the new academic year. He discusses, for
instance, with colleagues in the Philosophy Department the difficulties that exist in finding a
replacement to teach Williamson’s courses in the
following year.

July 22
The husband of the girl who signed the statement
about Williamson writes to him apologising for
what has happened and saying that his wife was
seriously ill when she provided the statement and
is now withdrawing it. The girl herself writes to
Williamson saying that she is withdrawing the
statement, and she and her husband try repeatedly
to secure the return of the statement from Professor
Phillips and the Registrar, but without success.

It emerges that the girl has a history of illness,
that she felt a powerful attraction towards Professor
Phillips and that she was convinced, although she
had never met him, that WilI’iamson was ‘completely
evil’. The effect of the statement, she
says, was to support the contention of Professor
Phillips that Will±a!11son supported the boycotting
students and incited them to their actions. Two
weeks later, she is readmitted to Cefn Coed Hospital, Swansea. However, the Committee of In!:ruiry
continues to hold meetings, interviewing Professor
Phillips on August 5, and even a month l~ter
Professor Phillips expresses to colleagues his confidence that Williamson will be diSMissed or otherwise disciplined by the beginning of the academic
year. The week in which the evidence of the girl
collapsed ran from 22 to 29 July.

cTuly 29
The Joint Staffing and Appointments Committee meets
and decides to invite Colwyn Williamson to attend a
meeting on September 13. A letter is sent to him by
the Registrar on August 5 saying that they wish to .

discuss with williamson ‘certain difficulties that
have arisen in the life of the college in recent
years and, in particular, the disruption which took
place in the Lent Term’. Williamson replies pointing out that ‘disruption’ here refers to an official
strike by members of the union branch of which he is
Secretary and that the Joint Staffing and Appointments
Committee has already been responsible for victimising two ASTMS members. He says in his letter that
he would be willing to discuss these matters with
the Committee. The Registrar writes to Williamson
saying that Williamson is not allowed to come as an
official of the union but only as ‘an individual
member of t~e staff of the college’.

August 1
Williamson has not yet been informed that he is to
be invited to meet the Joint staffing and Appointments Committee. He sends to the Committee of
Inquiry which is investigating the girl’s statement
a formal submission for an investigation into the
conduct of Professor D.Z. Phillips in relation to
the obtaining of this statement. He asks, in particular, the Committee of Inquiry to carry out an
investigation into whether Professor Phillips had
any knowledge of the girl’s illness prior to accepting the statement, whether he communicated any such
knowledge to college officials when he passed on
the statement, why he did not consult with Williamson about the truth of the statement prior to taking
action, whether he suggested to the girl that she
should write the statement and whether it had ever
been put to the girl that Williamson might somehow
be masterminding the,boycott in which she was! inv~lved.

.ft

August 5

A meeting of the Committee of Inquiry. p~ofessor
D.Z. Phillips is interviewed. It is not yet
possible to ascertain the extent to wh~ch he was
questioned about his conduct in relation to the
girl’s statement but, in describing the proceedings
of the Committee afterwards to colleagues, he again
expressed confidence about Williamson not teaching
in the Department by the beginning of the year.

On the same day as this meeting of the Committee of
Inquiry, the Registrar writes to Williamson telling
him to discuss ‘disruption’ with the Joint staffing
and Appointments Committee.

August 10

Williamson writes to the Registrar complaining that
the Committee of Inquiry ought not to be continuing
its initial proceedings after the allegations it is
supposed to be inquiring into have been expressly
withdrawn and saying that this unjust to him and
very damaging to the girl.

August 15

A furtheOr meeting of the Committee of Inquiry. This
time the husband of the girl is interviewed. He is
asked questions about how often he has met Williamson and about whether Williamson might, although he
had never met the girl, have somehow indirectly
caused her illness, which the husband emphatically
denies. That same day the girl is readmitted to
hospital.

him that the Branch cannot permit its members and
officers to be examined about their official union
activities ‘as individual members of staff’ and that
Williamson has therefore been instructed by the
Branch not to attend the Joint Staffing and Appointments Committee meeting of September 13.

August 29

The ASTMS solicitors write to the Registrar asking
a series of questions designed to clarify the
purpose and procedures of the proposed meeting on
september 13 .• The Registrar replies that the
matter will be referred to an appropriate authority
and replied to as soon as possible.

September 7
A meeting of officials from the ASTMS branches in
the constituent colleges of the federal University
of Wales is held and it is decided to inform
management in each of the constituent colleges that
the victimisations °of ASTMS members in Swansea are
relevant to the whole University of Wales and not
the University College of Swansea exclusively.

September 9
Williamson is informed by the Registrar that the
Joint Staffing and Appointments Committee meeting
of september 13 has been postponed and that the
invitation to attend on that date has therefore
been withdrawn.

August 26

°Williamson writes to th~ Registrar asking what
progress is being made into the investigation into
Professor Phillips’ conduct requested formally in
the submission of August 1. To this the RegiRtrar
eventually replies on September 4 that Williamson’s
letter ‘will receive attention as soon as possible’.

A~gj4.~t

27

The Chairman of the ASTMS Branch to which weston and
Williamson helong writes to the Registrar informing
‘Tn 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.’ [Colwyn Williamson: ‘Searle’s Idea of
a University’ in RPS)

The Staff·Student Defence Committee
An aspect of the dispute at University College,
Swansea, which has been somewhat overshadowed by
the cases of Mike Weston and Colwyn Ivilliamson
concerns those students taking the four year
honours philosophy course who were involved in the
boycott of second year exams at the end of last
~lrnmer term.

The dispute over these examinations
had been ,lraqqinq on for three years and was (1iscussed at Forums of staff (includinq the head of
department) ond sturlents throughout the first two
terms of last year. Pinally an ‘offer’ was made
which stated that two of the six subjects usually
eXaminerl a t the end of the second year would be
examined at the end of the third year instead.

Students were offered a ‘choice’ between this
system and the old system under the condition that
their decision be binding for two years, that is,
until they had left.

Extensive discussions took place with members
of staff in lectures at which alternative methods
of assessment were suggested by students. Ilowever,
it became clear that students had been presented
with a fait accompli, a realisation which caused a
change in heart in those previously opposed to
militant action. On the eve of the first examination, a meeting of second year students decided
unaminously to boycott.

At the end of term there was stalemate. The
students reaffirmed their position on the examinations, resolving to continue the boycott until
further negotiations could be held. The university
authorities for their part stated that unless

supplementary exams were taken in September
students would face disciplinary action.

Early in August a defence committee was formed
to organise the struggle for the victimised staff
and students. Staff were urged to call on the
head of department to bring forw~rd the date of
the staff meeting to discuss the exam issue. When
this failed it was decided to extend the boycott
to cover the supplementary exams.

Shortly afterwards the students were informed
by their local authorities that they had ‘failed’

their second year and that payment of grants would
depend on the results of thei~ supplementary exams,
which of course had not been taken.

The students involved now face the prospect of
continuing their education with no financial
assistance – if they are allowed to return to the
department of philosophy at all (threats to this
effect were made at the start of the dispute).

Effectively they have been expelled for boycotting
exams which a working party of staff and students
had recommended be abolished in 1973.

The defence Committee is now organising a campaign of support for all members of the philosophy
department who face victimisation.

Graham Allum
Graham .1l1um is one of the students t”ho boycotted
the second year exams in June, and whose educa~o
tional future. is now in danger.

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