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The lot of witnesses that "La Repubblica" is missing

by : COBAS UK
Thursday November 27, 2008 - 00:56

There are many people who have been forced out of their jobs and academic careers, from postgraduate researchers to professors, because of bullying in universities in Britain.

We know that these same problems exist elsewhere around the world and seems to worsen the more neoliberal policies and ideologies are forced upon Higher Education systems. Sometime the problem of bullying and mobbing in the universities around the world is obscured and difficult to translate as behaviours and legislation changes from country to country but there are common patterns. In fact modern communication technologies have allowed for an exchange of ideas between countries analysing case studies and common patterns have emerged.

Those of us who have personally experienced the destructive oppression of bullying and mobbing in universities, have favoured diverse ways to oppose it and have identified various channels by which it is manifest; not just in the institutions themselves, but also through the media and public systems (e.g. welfare benefits, the legal system, governmental executive offices, etc.)

Strangely enough, there has been virtually no international dialogue among the base, to share the problems and battles or warn of the strategies employed by powerful groups to suppress voices of discontent and oppression of academics. Too much has been localised and focussed on reinterpretation of the problems under the weight of a sort of defeatism towards the structures of power that create the conditions for bully managers in particular to thrive in universities.

This has exposed us all to the tyranny of media monopolies to communicate news that furthers their interests and political alliances, while suppressing that which does not.

An example is the huge revolution that has been taking place across the Italian education sectors recently, including protests by millions of students, parents and academics, the occupation of universities by students and lectures in the streets. This is all in opposition to proposed major cuts across education which takes it more towards privatisation and the Anglo-American hegemonic model of education as an economic, rather than social phenomenon. Just a few words of this have been reported in the British press.

Not even the THES has seen fit to devote two lines to at least comment on the uprising against Berlusconi’s law 133 cuts. But this is no innocent oversight by the newspaper which publishes annual league tables and is able to influence the future of universities by hosting exclusive conferences between vice-chancellor, corporate financiers and management consultants.

Meanwhile the Italian newspaper Repubblica, which could not really pretend to have missed what was going on, introduced a new tactic.

It has collated, via one of its blogs, several-hundred testimonies from academics who have left Italy to go abroad for study or work in universities. The aim was to not merely show up problems these people perceived with Italian HE, but to show that other systems, particularly those in America and Britain, could offer a perfect solution and be of example for proposed reforms.

The technique behind this stunt was to create a binary opposition; a one and only alternative in the reform of universities. The accounts present a sort of marketing brochure for the anglo-american model which show only positive aspects without highlighting the problems. To use the example of the British case as the one I am familiar with, whether or not the Italians who contribute to the blog have experienced bullying, nepotism, discrimination, research censorship, or any of the other serious defects characterising British HE, is besides the point. These problems exist, the plague of bullying destroys lives, and hiding them from Italians, just like the British press hides news of the revolt against Berlusconi’s reforms from the British, is more than irresponsible. More precisely it demonstrates a violent abuse of the trust people give to the press to report the facts. Moreover, it shows up a desire to push a particular political agenda.

For the THE this means the agenda of the blairote/Brownite neoliberal New Labour. Sally Hunt, head of the University and College Union (a ‘yellow’ or pseudo union and only recognised union for HE in Britain) regularly espouses propaganda in the THE’s pages and her union contributes to directly funding the labour party.

For Reepubblica, the allegiance is with the centre-left Partito Democratico who would prefer to introduce neoliberal style reforms to align the Italian system with the hegemonic model set down in the Bologna Declaration at the shadow of social-democracy missed policies never truly implemented by Tony Blair.

Such power in the hands of the media to influence public opinion, not through a clear confrontation of the facts, but through a campaign of marketing and propaganda, is dangerous. What is more, it is exactly what pleases the political centre and centre-right, preventing the forming of a solidarity among workers and the political left, who will never benefit from a system like that in Britain or America. It is a sell-out, not information and it is Berlusconism.

People need to be informed of the tragedies created from people’s lives by bullying and other problems in British HE, so that the same problems are not recreated in Italy and ultimately, globally. Stunts that this one by Repubblica reinforce the mistaken idea that there is only one alternative system of reform for HE, masking the reality that the systems in Britain, America and many other nations, are just as bad if not worse in many respects than that it Italy.

Neoliberal reforms of HE in Britain have not solved existing problems. The same patriarchy, bullying, poverty, precariousness and lack of equal opportunities remain in Britain as they do in Italy.

In the current financial crisis this is only getting worse as lecturers and researchers struggle to meet living costs and are forced to submit to unfair demands on their labour and students face impossible levels of debt to complete their studies. What is more, the years of reforms in Britain have seen a reduction not an increase in academic freedom.

What has increased is the extent of accountability and the demands for efficiency on the academic workforce, who are simultaneously subjected to market and governmental forces.

What is true is that these problems are more than ever hidden by political rhetoric and the willing servitude of a compromised press, who use their influence to pervert public expectations of and values towards HE.

There are some very powerful people who are intent on bringing Italy into line so that its HE system, can be turned to the advantage of the economy, not the advantage of ordinary citizens.

COBAS UK

http://www.cobas.org.uk



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