THREAT TO SWANSEA STUDENTS
“Mounting evidence that a small minority of university teachers regards
truth as being at worst irrelevant anc
at best a political weapon to manipulate the simple-minded” is apparently
gathering in the files of the right
Two boycotts of exams, variou~demonstrations, a three day occupation of the Philosophy Department and a 26 day occupation of
the main administrative building give some idea of the extent of
the battle that students have been waging at Swansea for reform
or the assessment system and for staff/student democracy.
three years now since these issues first came up for debate, and
the protest has mounted ever since.
The Philosophy course is dominated by exams which are held in
each of its four years. Only the final exams grade degrees;
first year exams determine entry to the course; third year exams
are supposed to be ‘good practice’ for finals.
Not even the
moderates in the Depart~ent regard second year exams as necessary,
and o~e student who failed them recently was still allowed to continue the course. Hence they became a focus of attack.
It was argued generally,. against exams that they limit the content and method of courses by requiring them to be exam-orientated; that they provide a quantified and finalised verdict of a
kind not relevant to philosophy where assessment should be openended; and that they preempt the development of changes in the
students’ viewpoint on the material learnt.
The charges have implications beyond
Keith Joseph’s bid for stardom on the
outer right and such accusations have
become common since 1968.
The burden of Joseph’s accusations is
that socialists cannot respect the
truth .and that therefore their presence in the education system is a
threat to academic freedom.
His attacks complement a reactionary elitist
soCial and educational programme. His
method is to manipulate liberal democratic concern for truth and freedom.
It is a slander to say that socialism
is an intellectually dishonest perspective. And when thi~ is added to
the confusion generated, as in the
Huntington affair, by panic over “academic values” (see Roy Edgley’s article
in this i~sue)~ then an ominous shad9w
rises behind the credulous liberal.
PROf. PH ILL~ P5)
In the last issue of Radical Philosophy we gave a good deal of
publicity to the dismissal of Mike Weston, and threatened dismissal of Colwyn Williamson from their posts in the Swansea Philosophy Department. We pointed to the fact that· these events had
come as the CUlmination of three years of discontent in the Department over.. the organisation and content of courses, and actions
of its head, Professor D.Z. Phillips, but it was felt by the
students that we had not given sufficient space to their continuing struggle for reform of the syllabus and assessment system,
especially the system of annual examinations. The following is
based on a report from one of the students in the Department:
In Feb. 1973 a staff-student forum voted overwhelmingly for abolition of second year exams and reduction of third year exams. “Prof.
Phillips rejected the proposals. By way of protest the students
announced their intention to boycott the second year exams. Prof.
Phillips evaded all discussion of the~educational issues involved
andlthreatened to prevent the students proceeding to the third year
or to resign if they were allowed to. The students took the exams.
Discussion’ continued but to no avail, and was finally clamped down
on by. Prof. Phillips in February 1974. The only change made was
that an individual tutorial system was in~roduced which provided an
alternative means of monitoring. pr,?gress, and disc:ouraged studentc::
fr6~ m~rely learning lecture notes. But-in the Summer term,
with exams imminent, the conflict between this more constructive work and exam work became acute, with consequent increas~
in discontent. ~ final straw came when lecturers with whom
the students discussed this discontent, and who themselves deplored the apathy of students’ attitudes to work, still refused
to entertain any hope of changes.
So again the students decided to boycott the exams, and once
a~ain Prof. Phillips refused to discuss the issue, and threatened de facto expUlsion. Ultimately the ~tudents agreed to take
ehe exams provided exams were abolished for future years. But
this offer elicited no response, and as things were worsening
in the Department with the victimisation of Mike Weston and Colwyn Williamson, the students boycotted again.
Further negotiations with Prof. Phillips failed. A staff meeting voted to reinstate the students unconditionally and to discuss the exams issue, but Prof. Phillips rejected both recommendations and proposed instead that the Faculties concerned suspend
the students for a year pending external exams in June 1975. A
Senate meeting of Heads of Department offered students more exams
in October. At no time were the students’ yearly academic records questioned; they were just told that they must sit their
exams in order to compiy with Departmental (not College) rules.
Support was solicited from other students, and the
Student Union Executive took up the issue. After
initial support of the boycott it managed to persuade the union that the exams should be tak~n.
was hinted that improvements in the Department were
on the way.
In addition, Professor Phillips promised to abide by a democratic staff decision about exams in December, and to consult students about it.
The students felt this was a defeat for a cause with
widespread support. They felt that the students
might be victims of the exams if they had to sit them
at this juncture.
This proved correct: we all failed the exams equally
badly. Most staff, knowing this reflected our state
of mind rather than our ability, wanted us all to
ceed to the third year. But a Senate Committee accepted the proposal of Prof. Phillips and three of the
staff that two of the students should repeat the second year. The Student Union Executive protested to
the Principal, who refused to change the decision and
added that the two students must in future have ‘
plary academic records and not engage in
The response to this was immediate: 200 students
,~pied the Philosophy Department; three days later 600
voted at a Union meeting to occupy the Registry.
In reply to this direct action, members of the
A.U.T. went on ‘strike’ (i.e. they stopped teaching) against the occupation. This served to
strengthen student support rather than split it. ‘
Four fifths of a 2,000 strong Union meeting voted to continue the occupation.
The next move came from the Principal, who, in
consultation with two students and the Union
Executive submitted a compromise solution to a
specially called senate meeting. The only philosopher present at the meeting was Prof. Phillips. The compromise was rejected.
It now looked as if the occupation was succeeding where earlier attempts at negotiation had
failed, and a second Union meeting voted to continue with it. But the N.U.S. executive was
iukewarm in support of it, and this, combined
with a failure to escalate the action, meant
that support gradually dwindled.
Year Three: The Reckoning
Nonetheless we have managed to sustain an occupation for nearly four weeks in a College that
has not been militant for several years. On the
debit side, two students are having to repeat a
year with no guarantee of finance; three have returned, somewhat demoralised, to the third year.
Another has left in disgust. On the credit side,
we have learnt the importance of unity • It was
this which made us hold out so long.
In fact it
was only with the competitiveness induced,by the
exams that the group began to dissolve. Nevertheless, the Students Union, realising the mistake it made in advising us to sit them, then understood the need for direct, united action.
If nothing else we have shown students the
nature of our Department and the ease with which
the university structure as a whole can accommodate it. The ‘Principal’s assertion that the university is a democracy has been exposed for wha~
it is: it refers to an authoritarian hand within
a democratic glove.
For information about Radical Philosophy Group
activities, please contact:
ABERDEEN – Bryan Turner
Department of Sociology, the University
BRISTOL – Keith Graham
Department of Philosophy, the University
BRIGHTON – Chris Arthur
Arts Building, University of SUssex
CANTERBURY – Richard Norman
Darwin College, University of Kent
CARDIFF – Barry Wilkins
Department of Philosophy, the University
GLASGOW – Scott Miekle
Department of Moral Philosophy, the University
LAMPETER – Chris Lawn, John Coggins
Department of Philosophy
LONDON – Mike Dawney, Middlesex Poly,
Crouch End Hill, N8.
SWANSEA – RPG, Students Union
University College of Swansea
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