Sunday, 17 August 2008

Ashby on the (legitimate) student estate and illegitimate protest movement

In order to direct my mind somewhere towards my two upcoming writing tasks (draft chapter two on students in the 60/70s and prepare a paper on Eric Ashby) I’ve been reading Eric Ashby & Mary Anderson’s 1970 book “The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain”. The train trip from Sydney to Canberra today gave me plenty of opportunity to read it.

By the period of student unrest (say) 1968-1975, Ashby was Vice Chancellor at Cambridge (I’m pretty sure, though he may have held another senior academic admin position in that period too).

All the obituaries of Ashby (copies held in the Sydney archives in Ashby’s bio file) talk about how well he handled the student uprisings: with respect both for students and for university traditions.

Without making too much comment at this stage, I’d like to record some quotes from “The Student Estate”.

“At the centre of the turbulence, in practically every university, there is a small group of dedicated students. They have one thing in common: they hate the consumer society. Their dedication has one aim: to destroy it … sociologists call these groups alienated and there are shelves of books analysing their origins (upper-middle class from permissive homes is a common description); their subconscious disorders (the Oedipal Rebellion against all father-figures is one hypothesis); their contempt of constraint (Clothes are a constraint, razors are a constraint; courses and examinations are constraints; …refined language is a constraint”); their rejection of the cumulative and consecutive structure of universities in favour of spontaneous emotional surges of self-realisation; their resemblance…to some early fanatical Christian sect…” p.123

“[According to militant students}… the universities have to be ‘restructured’ through non-stop seminars…about what the university is for, run by students on the unexamined assumption that the participants will always remain students. The one positive article of faith which students in his group seem to share is that now, in an age of plenty, utopias need to longer be dreams in books: they can become realities; though how this will be done if expertise in the universities is liquidated, they do not presume to know.” P.124

“…we are not discussing legitimate protests (hf note – legitimate according to who?)…What we are discussing is deliberate disruption for disruption’s sake or to secure by the short cut of ultimatum concessions which could be secured by legitimate means.”

“[There is] no evidence … of sinister foreign conspiracies”

“There is the singular logic of anarchy…violence is not smashing gates or assaulting members of parliament or battering at the police: it is the violence done by a repressive curriculum in capitalist economies and the ‘intolerable assault on the mind’ of the examination system; for these constrain personal development. (Curricula and examinations do need reform, but not by this sort of csnt).”

“If the university is wise, free speech flourishes, there is no sign of police, no one is victimised…if the university is unwise, the spiral…reaches its second phase; 50 occupiers become 500.”

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