Letters: At last, a university stands up to its managers

These letters appear in the January 21 edition of The Independent

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The decision of King’s College London to reverse its daft adoption of a trendy new name, “Kings London”, is a welcome but regrettably rare example of university “management” being forced to realise that they had gone to far in their zeal for corporatism rather than education.

The real question was why and how the original stupid decision was taken in the first place, when it is clearly opposed by just about everyone in the university. Sadly, anyone who has worked in a university knows only too well how these decisions are taken.

Universities are now run as businesses, by isolated groups consisting of vice-chancellors and their pro-VC sidekicks  and senior non-academic managers (usually ex-Tesco or NHS accountants and HR executives who have rarely set foot in an academic department), who have become totally distanced from the rest of the university, particularly the academic staff.

“Consultation” is something they do after  whatever out-of-touch decision they have taken, and is then used as a rubber-stamp – usually by VCs who clamp down on any sensible debate in Senate. The decision is then taken for approval to gullible lay Councils or Courts who believe that everyone is in agreement as they have been “consulted” (but rarely listened to).

These university managers in the past were members of the academic staff, but now no longer see themselves as part of a continuum, but as corporate strategists. They have mostly lost sight of the basic academic functions of teaching, scholarship and research. Management has become for them an activity in its own right, with little regard for what they are actually managing.

So well done the staff and students of KCL. If only more of us had the will to stand up to these self-opinionated berks.

Professor T J Simpson FRS
School of Chemistry
University of Bristol


Super-rich don’t make the rest poor

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (19 January) has jumped on the bandwagon of blaming the super-rich for our woes. Her claim that “inequality is threatening to tear our democracy apart” is unfounded scare-mongering. 

Capitalism produces great inequality – that is true. But it also delivers prosperity on a massive scale. The UN 2014 Millennium Goals report states that “In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22 per cent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million.”

Capitalism and technology are making most people better off. Some of the entrepreneurs who build businesses and create jobs, such as James Dyson and Richard Branson, become fabulously wealthy, but that does not make the rest of us poorer. 

Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world. He has also done more to combat malaria than all the governments in Africa combined.

It is convenient to make the super-rich scapegoats, but driving them away will not make the rest of us richer. And they are no threat to our democracy.

Paul Sloane
Camberley, Surrey


The Pope condemned ‘Charlie’ terrorists

David Cameron is over-reacting  and taking the Pope’s comments on the Charlie Hebdo attack out of context. Pope Francis was rightly saying that we need freedom of expression, but he reminded people to be sensitive and responsible. Surely that is reasonable?

His point about mothers and punches was trying to point out that of course people are going to be upset if you ridicule things very dear to them. He spoke from a Latino cultural background, where your mother is sacrosanct and people will get passionate if she is attacked.

Yes, it was an unfortunate example to use but he was not actually condoning violence, and condemned the terrorists outright in no uncertain terms.

Fr Kevin O’Donnell
Rottingdean, East Sussex


Sasha Simic (letters, 15 January) claimed that white Norwegians were not required to “scrutinise their values and beliefs” after the murderous rampage by the neo-Nazi Anders Breivik.

Actually that is not true. I am married into an extended Scandinavian family and I know that there was serious debate about the rampant Norwegian nationalism of recent years and the extent of wartime collaboration.

The Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews


Labour party and imported labour

Labour admits that the UK economy is improving but states that the improvement is not being felt by “everyday people”.

Of course this situation has nothing to do with the mass of cheap imported foreign labour that has fuelled our recovery and which Labour encouraged in its immigration policy while in office?

It is one of the ironies of modern politics that the political party formed to further the interests of the British working class was the very party that deliberately exposed this same class to better educated and cheaper foreign labour, thereby deploying market forces to drive down the incomes of those it supposedly represents.

Alan Stedall
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands


The other victims if the Nazis

I have followed the correspondence on anti-Semitism with interest, but also with a certain knowledge that prejudice is not limited to non-Jews.

In 1981 I visited the Dachau concentration camp. To be brought face to face with the agonies suffered there was indescribable. At the end of my visit I stood near a low wall, looking over it into the distance, pondering the experience of the last hour. 

As I stood there, I felt a hand come to rest on my shoulder. It belonged to a Jewish gentleman wearing a skullcap. I fancied he had seen my distressed state. He asked me in German how I was feeling.

“How is one supposed to feel after seeing all that?” I asked him rhetorically. He had lost family members in the Holocaust; some had even been here at Dachau.

He then asked me if I had lost anyone here. I replied that I hadn’t, that I was English and not even Jewish, and had not suffered. But if I was here, it was largely to pay my respects to another group of men who were imprisoned here and who suffered along with the Jews and the gypsies: the homosexuals.

The hand which up to that point had still been resting on my shoulder was removed. He enquired if I was homosexual myself. I answered him that I was.

“Es tut mir leid, aber  Ihr habt’s verdient!” was  his reply. In English:  “I’m sorry, but you lot deserved it!”

Dr Michael Johnson


If we are to understand, depressing as it is, that many Jews in Britain and France feel there is no future for them “here” (“The new anti-Semitism”, 14 January), it can only be made worse by their being assumed, understandably but often wrongly, to be sympathisers for a Jewish state carved out of Arab lands by the connivance  of the British and the French and expanded illegally ever since.

There is an understandable frustration among many Arabs and Muslims at the acquiescence of the West, which can only poison relations between Muslims and Jews outside Israel.

As John Pilger memorably said, Palestine is still the issue.

Sam Kendon


I notice that the Palestinians will formally join the International Criminal Court, in order to bring charges against Israel for war crimes, on 1 April, commonly called All Fools’ Day. In view of their own behaviour, in siting rocket launchers in schools, mosques and apartment blocks when targeting Israel’s civilian population, both deliberate contraventions of the Geneva Convention, is this choice of date not highly significant?

Martin D Stern
Salford, Greater Manchester


I find David Grodner’s letter (15 January) repugnant. He appears to be saying that the reason Jewish people are threatened is because the world’s press keeps reporting the injustices that the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinian people.

The way to stop the  “bad” press is to stop inflicting these injustices; it is barely a couple of months, for example, since the Israeli navy shelled and killed four Palestinian children on a beach. They were 11 years old.

Lindsay Johnston
Gauldry, Fife


Truncated tennis

As a long-time tennis fan, I was intrigued by your article (13 January) on the possible introduction of the much-truncated Fast4 format in Australia. However, I very much doubt that, if the format is widely adopted, the prize money would be reduced pro rata, notwithstanding the inevitability of much less court time for the protagonists: indeed, the chances must be close to love – sorry, zero.

Jeremy Redman
London SE6