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Report Condemns Swansea MA; Bakhtin’s 5th International; Nietzsche Society of Great Britain

NEWS
Report Condemns
Swansea MA
Events in Swansea took a decisive turn in
July with publication of the SwinnertonDyer Report into allegations of malpractice and poor academic standards on the
MA in the Philosophy of Health Care at
the Philosophy Department, University
College, Swansea. This is the fourth report so far by either the College or University authorities into various aspects of the
affair, but the first genuinely independent
one, the first to address itself directly to
the allegations and undoubtedly the most
significant to date. Set up by the ViceChancellor ofthe University of Wales and
written by Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer (a
former director of the Universities Funding Council), it unequivocally vindicates
the complainants, suspended philosophy
lecturers Michael Cohen and Colwyn
Williamson, and condemns the conduct of
the MA degree, whist casting a shadow of
uncertainty over the whole field of applied
philosophy.

On the specific allegations of malpractice, the Report’s conclusions are clear, its
recommendations incisive. On the wider
issue of taught courses in applied philosophy, however, its remarks are suggestive,
potentially far-reaching in their implications, but ultimately elusive and not a little
worrying.

The Report’s main finding is that the
Swansea MA in the Philosophy of Health
Care ‘was not conducted in accordance
with the University Regulations’. More
particularly, in 1989, at least 40 degrees
were awarded for work which was not of a
standard usually expected. (One student,
found guilty of plagiarism, has already
been stripped of his degree as a result of
the recommendation of a previous report.)
The Inquiry’s conclusion is the course must
be scrapped, devised anew and re submitted
to the Academic Board of the University
of Wales for approval. Any such new
course should have a different name, a
different content, a different set of exami58

nation techniques and different teaching
commitments from the existing one – which
will indeed be abolished once those students currently undertaking it complete
their studies. (The Vice-Chancellor has
accepted the Report and agreed to implement its recommendations.)
Given all of this one might be forgiven
for supposing that this was the end of the
affair; at least for Cohen and Williamson,
who were suspended pending the outcome
of the Inquiry. (The repercussions for those
with authority over the degree – Donald
Evans and Prof. D.Z. Phillips – are another
matter. They remain uncertain. Although
calls for their resignations have intensified.) But this would be to underestimate
both the level of animosity generated by
the affair and the baroque managerial practices of University College, in a situation
which is rapidly turning into a power struggle between the College and University
authorities. To understand why the affair
is likely to drag on for at least another 9
months, despite the decisiveness of the
latest report, it is necessary to appreciate
the range of complaints it has provoked
within the College.

When the College Council met three
days after publication of the latest Report,
it had before it an array of complaints
about its previous behaviour, from the hiring of a public relations firm to engage in
‘dirty tricks’ against Cohen and Williamson
in the national press, through the pressure
it exerted to force Anne Maclean to resign
(she is seeking reinstatement), to an AUT
complaint about the flaunting of grievance
procedures. Over-loaded by the onslaught
and undermined by Swinnerton-Dyer’s report, J ames Callaghan, the President of the
College, passed the buck and referred the
whole matter to the Visitor, who in this
case happens to be the Queen. Presumably
in the hope that interest in the affair will
dwindle and the balance of forces will
swing back the College’s way.

Meanwhile, Cohen and Williamson
have progressed from a state of suspension to the limbo of a compulsory ‘leave of
absence’, awaiting the word of the monarch – a fitting denouement to what has
always been a decidedly feudal affair. Allowed back on the campus, but still banned
from the Philosophy Department, they have
been allocated offices in the Department
of Maintenance – in tacit recognition, perhaps, of their fight for the maintenance of
academic standards. Were it not so serious
in both its substance and implications, one
might take the whole thing for a rather
laboured campus comedy.

The most controversial finding in the
Report (apparently following the advice
of Mary Warnock) is the ‘there is not yet a
sufficient body of agreed knowledge to
justify a taught MA’ in the Philosophy of
Health Care. Not surprisingly, precisely
what is meant by this has become a matter
of dispute. Some, like Brenda Almond of
the Society for Applied Philosophy, have
taken it as an attack on the whole emergent
field of applied philosophy (indeed, it
would seem to threaten all innovative
course development), and have responded
(misguidedly, in my view) by defending
the College against the Report. Others,
like Williamson himself, are more cautious. He argues that ‘there is nothing in
the Report that mitigates against the setting up of a degree in Medical Ethics, for
example. It is the phrase “Philosophy of
Health Care” that’s the problem.’ But if
this is so, then surely it is encumbent upon
the Report to spell out the distinction.

What distinguishes one from the other?

One way of looking at it is to focus on
the issue of the rationale behind course
construction, since what has really been at
stake in Swansea is the relationship of the
academy to the market. Underlying the
affair is a deep-seated and now clearly
justified worry about a growing academic
practice: the setting up of specialist deRadical Philosophy 59, Autumn 1991

D.

grees for specific ‘client’ or ‘consumer
groups’ where the content and conduct of
the degree is dictated not by any overriding academic or intellectual rationale but
solely by the perceived vocational wants
of the group in question. To proceed otherwise, it is supposed, is uneconomic because ‘uncompetitive’.

Whatever else may come of it, the
Swinnerton-Dyer Report has posted a
warning to those Departments that have
been led to assume that it is through the
unchecked application of neo-liberal economics to education that their future will
be secured. The victory of economic liberalism over its broader (and contradictory)
political counterpart is obviously not so
assured as some people had thought.

Pamphlets about the affair at Swansea
continue to keep pace with, and surpass,
the number of reports commissioned by
the University and College authorities.

These include pamphlet-reports by each
of the two pairs of protagonists (Evans
and Phillips on the one hand, and Cohen
and Williamson on the other), ‘In Defense
of Cohen and Williamson’ by Professor
Brody and a new pamphlet by John
Griffith. All of this material, along with
copies of previous pamphlets, is available
for a small fee from the Swansea Three
Defense Committee, 17 Bristol Road,
Brighton BN2 lAP. Contributions to the
campaign (which has already raised over
£3500) are welcome to help with its growing expenses. Cheques should be made
payable to: Academic Standards Fighting
Fund.

~ Philosophy dons win–,
~ experts’ backing in
Oi

i shoddy degrees row

3

Plagtansm i~
rumpUS ~O
filrst
1
·
ms
C al
graclu ate

o

Barry Huglll
Education Correspondent_

TWO university philosophers
facing dismissal for ‘whistleblowing’ on the scandal of MA
degrees awarded for s?o~dy and in one case, plaglansed wo;k have been vindicated by
experts.

Colywn Williamson and
Michael Cohen last night celebrated with students who ha,:e
backed them since the authonties at University Coll~ge,
Swansea, condemned the pair as
‘troublemakers’ and banned
them from university premises.

Earlier
this
year
the
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, of which S~ansea
is part, asked Sir Pete~ Swmnerton-Dyer, former director of
the Universities Funding Council to investigate the philosophers’ allegations. Sir Peter,
advised by Baroness War!lock,
herself a distinguished philosopher, has concluded now. that
the MA degree in the Philosophy of Health Care ‘was ~ot
conducted in accordance WIth
the Umversity RegulatlonsJ’ . __~,,-,-_–In his report, due to b
lished tomorrow, Sir
… __ .n._”t” Y’;ll;~n1Cl”n <:lnr1 r

.

A STUDENT at the cen~re of a
plaeiarism row at l!mverslt Y
C
~-·.”nc;:pa. IS to b e
SI

~

SILENCING THE CRITICS
THE DISPUTE IN SWANSEA

H1CHAEL COHfN
COL WYN W1LLlAHSON

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Warnings o~
plagiarism
‘ignored’

EVAD IN G ·~.~l·~ ~ft~t:~ i.~ ~ . – . . h

THE
~~!i~t~;::i:PhllOSObP e e
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Colwyn Williamson will be addressing a
fringe meeting about the events at Swansea and their implications for the future of
higher education in Britain during the lunch
break at the Radical Philosophy conference in London on November 9 – for
details of which, see p.2 of this issue.

Peter Osborne

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MICHAEL £OHEN
COLWYN WILLIAMSON

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Swansea acts to sort out ‘doled out’ degree scandal
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DAILY MIRROR 5.3.91

MA feud keeps
philosopher
down the pub

Masler class in
la~;:~~i~~~~~ dl-rl)llrl-cks

down

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Soulh Wales.

NOftsSOI CIAIKSON

Radical Philosophy 59, Autumn 1991

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THES 24.5.91

59

Bakhtin’s 5th International
As someone quipped to me before the
conference, the title ‘5th International’ had
a somewhat ominous ring to it, conjuring
up images of a Bakhtinist vanguard fervently bent on the establishment of world
dialogism in not-so-smoke-filled rooms.

The reality, held at Ashburne Hall, University of Manchester, July 15-19 and capably organised by David Shepard, was of
course a much more polite and innocent
affair. It included delegates from most
corners of the globe, including for the first
time many prominent Soviet academicians,
such V.V. Ivanov and S.S. Averintsev.

The conference was also marked by the
attendence of a significant number of nonliterary Bakhtinians, including folklorists,
anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists.

Seventy papers were delivered, thematically organised into discrete sessions
which dealt with such topics as ‘self-other
relations’, ‘dialogism’ and ‘psychoanalysis’, and they were complemented by discussions that were generally lively and
well-informed (despite the difficulties in
translating the questions and answers back

and forth from Russian to English, particularly in the Russian-speaking sessions).

However, it quickly became apparent that
there were at leat two conferences happening simultaneously. The Bakhtinian
‘purists’, including many of the Soviets
and Slavicists, seemed to be mainly preoccupied with highly technical aspects of
Bakhtin’s life and work. With some exceptions (most notably V.L. Makhlin), the
Soviet contingent seemed largely uninterested in significant ‘dialogue’ with Western theories or interpretations of Bakhtin.

Stressing the religio-transcendental and
ethical dimesions of his thought, they appeared to view the prospect of a feminist
or a neo-Marxist Bakhtin with considerable suspicion, even alarm. Many of the
rest, dubbed ‘Western Bakhtinians’ by one
ofthe speakers, were more concerned with
the creative utilisation of Bakhtinian categories for social and cultural analysis in a
rather more free and eclectic manner than
many of the specialists deemed desirable.

Particularly welcome was the feminist
presence, which injected a note of scepticism into the hagiography which perme-

ated many of the sessions. It would also
seem that the hardening of ideological
lines within Bakhtinian scholarship did
not preclude a genial tolerance of diversity. Despite some occasional confrontations, most of the delegates seemed content to cultivate ‘their’ Bakhtin – including, perhaps not so surprisingly in these
post-modem times, a neo-conservative
one. The atmosphere at the conference as
largely positive, even celebratory at times,
although there was a sense of transition
and some searching comments were voiced
about the ‘politics of dialogism’ – that is,
whether a Bakhtinian dialogism is an instrument of human solidarity and the recognition of otherness, or whether it should
be construed as a critical discourse, a
‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. Some of these
concerns were addressed by Ken
Hirschkop and Michael Holquist in their
keynote speeches on the final day, though
from very different points of view. In 1993
the conference moves on to Mexico, and
then to Moscow in 1995.

Michael Gardiner

Nietzsche Society of Great Britain.

The Nietzsche Society of Great Britain was formed at a special one-day conference held
at the University of Essex in April 1990. The Society held its first annual conference at
Warwick University on April 26th and 27th 1991. The title of the conference was ‘The
Fate of the New Nietzsche’ and an interesting and varied range of papers were presented.

There were sessions on ‘Nietzsche and Postmodernism’, ‘Language, Truth and Logic’

(Nietzsche meets AJ. Ayer via Jacques Derrida), ‘Eternal Return’, ‘Heidegger’s Nietzsche’

and ‘Nietzsche, Man and Politics’. Finally, to close the conference, participants were
treated to an extraordinary paper by David Allison (SUNY, Stony Brook) on the qustion
of ‘Nietzsche’s Identity’. The Society elected Prof. David Cooper as its first Chairperson
and invited RJ. Hollingdale to be its first Honoury President.

RADICAL CHAINS
(COMMUNIST ANTICIPATIONS)
Radical Chains is a biannual journal which aims to generate a theoretical milieu in which
recovery of the communist perspective is possible. This requires the development of new
categories adequate to the comprehension of the changing political economy of the 20th
century. Radical Chains seeks the active participation of all who share this project.

Previous issues have included: the prevention of communism; proletarian self-emancipation; Pannekoek and transition; reprints of Ablett and Aldred. Issue 3, Sept 1991 includes
articles on imperialism; Zimmerwald; Lenin and transition; Carl Schmitt; Franz Jakubowski;
reprint of the first review in English of Marx’s Das Kapital by Belfort Bax.

Subscriptions (incl. p&p) UK: £2.50 2 issues – £4.50 4 issues – £8
Institutions and overseas subscribers add 25% to UK rates
Cheques / Postal orders to Lava at BM Radical Chains, London WC1N 3XX

60

The Journal of Nietzsche Studies is a
new international journal published twice
yearly by the Nietzsche Society of Great
Britain. It is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of Nietzsche’s writings and their
impact on 20th century thought, literature
and culture. It is also intended to serve as a
forum for broader debates in European
thought and literature, as well as offering
scholarly interpretations of previously
untranslated works by Nietzsche and recent European Nietzsche scholarship. The
journal also contains a review section and
bibliographic information on current developments in Nietzsche studies. The first
issue is now available.

Subscriptions should be sent to:

Dr Kimberley Hutchings, Humanities and
Social Sciences, Wolverhampton Polytechnic, Dudley Campus, Castle View, Dudley
DY13HR.

The rates are: £7 for 2 issues or £8 for
2 issues plus membership of the Society
(UK and Europe); £10 for 2 issues or £12
for 2 issues plus membership of the Society (USA). Special rates for the unwaged:

£4, Journal and Society (UK); £6, Journal
and Society (USA).

Radical Philosophy 59, Autumn 1991

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