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Victory At Swansea

Visitor’s Report Reinstates Rebel Lecturers
The three lecturers at the centre of the long-running row over
academic standards in the Philosophy Department at University
College, Swansea are to be reinstated, following the publication
of a 173-page report on the affair by retired High Court judge Sir
Michael Davies.

Two years after the publication of the previous report
(commisioned by the Vice-Chancellor of the University ofWales),
which unequivocally vindicated the lecturers’ complaints and
condemned the administration of the Swansea MA in the
Philosophy of Health Care, the College Council has finally bowed
to the inevitable and accepted the return of the rebels: Michael
Cohen, Anne Maclean and Colwyn Williamson.

The details of this increasingly Kafkaesque drama, dating
back to 1989, were reported in the News sections of Radical
Philosophy 56-59 as they emerged. Since then, after Ann Maclean’ s
enforced ‘resignation’ (the third of the dispute), and Cohen’s and
Williamson’s confinement to the limbo of a compulsory leave of
absence (served in Rooms 19 & 20 of the college Maintenance
Department), the scandal has continued to devour its cast. Although
now it is the other side in what the report refers to as this ‘war’ who
are providing the casualties.

Prof. D. Z. Phillips, formerly Head of the Philosophy
Department and instigator of the disciplinary measures against
the lecturers (a process described by Sir Michael as ‘getting his
retaliation in first’) resigned in May. As did Professor Brian
Clarkson, Principal of the College, after losing a libel action
brought against him by Cohen and Williamson in March. Clarkson
was forced to pay each of the lecturers £ 1500 in lieu of damages,
to pick up the bill for the legal costs of the case, and most
damagingly of all, to write a letter of apology to every lecturer at
the College withdrawing his allegations.

After the verdict, Clarkson remained defiant, claiming that if
he had been the managing director of a company ‘those people

would have been up the road the moment they kicked up the fuss
they did’. Yet it is precisely this desire to run a university college
like a company that is highlighted in the report as the source of the

neither the University of Wales nor the University College
of Swansea is a “company” in the profit-making or any
other sense. They are academic institutions …. this has not
always been remembered in Swansea.

Nor, one suspects, in quite a few other places. It is for what it has
to say about academic freedom and the distinctive character of the
university that the report is to be most welcomed. Hopefully, other
universities will also take note.

Apart from the behaviour of the various individuals concerned,
it is the College procedures which come in for harshest criticism.

The report comments on the foolishness of the failure to set up an
independent inquiry at an early stage. It notes crucial decisions
taken by College officers without the authority of Council (such
as that to spend over £27,000 on legal expenses for Professor
Phillips). And despite the opinion that the agreement with Anne
Maclean was ‘probably’ valid ‘in strict law’, Sir Michael was left
‘with the distinct feeling that she was not treated with what in all
the circumstances a reasonable person would say was Natural
Justice’ .

So is this, finally, the end of the affair? One might be forgiven
for hoping so, but also for having one’s doubts. The capacity of the
Swansea establishment for what Mao used to call ‘protracted’

warfare has been amply demonstrated. And as the meetings to
negotiate the working conditions of the three lecturers begin (I
write in July), the stirring of a last stand by the old guard can
already be felt.

Professor Beardsmore, who took over from Phillips as Head
of Department, has indicated that he plans to stand by his threat
to resign if Williamson is not sacked. Although other threats of
resignation, clearly designed to put pressure on Sir Michael’s
inquiry, are unlikely to be carried out. Meanwhile, Beardsmore
and Phillips are trying to organise a petition urging the College
Council to reject the findings of the report. They are also said
(once again) to be considering recourse to the courts, to seek a
judicial review on the grounds that ‘no reasonable person’ could
have written the report. But then ‘reasonable person’ does not
appear to be a concept on which Professors Phillips and Beardsmore
have too firm a grasp.

Peter Osborne
Copies of the report are available to anyone who makes a £5
contribution to the copying and mailing costs from: Academic
Standards Fighting Fund, Rooms 19 & 20, Maintenance
Department, University College of Swansea, Swansea SA2 8PP.


Radical Philosophy 65, Autumn 1993

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