Reclaiming the University of Aberdeen

Guest Post by Professor Timothy Ingold, University of Aberdeen

We, staff and students of the University of Aberdeen, are angry. We are angry about the way our academic community and our commitment to education and scholarship have been eaten away by a corrosive regime of management that works by bullying and intimidation. We have watched in anger and dismay as fundamental principles of trust, professionalism and freedom of expression on which academic life depends have been crushed under an avalanche of mindless bullet points, dehumanising and dysfunctional IT systems, arbitrary directives and sham consultations. During the spring and summer of last year, amidst cuts to academic programmes, threats of redundancy and collapsing morale, this anger turned to outrage. In response, we mounted a campaign to claim our University back from the regime.

We launched the campaign, under the banner ‘Reclaiming our University’, on 15th October 2015. The off-campus hall we had hired for the occasion was packed with staff and students, and the atmosphere in the hall was electric. Our aim was not so much to protest – though there was plenty of that – as to think about how things could and should be done differently: about the kind of University we want, how it should be run, and how to achieve it. The idea was to use our anger to energise a programme of reconstruction: to turn the crisis into an opportunity to rebuild the University into the kind of institution that, in the present climate, we could only dream of.

Over the following months we convened a series of open seminars on what we felt to be the four pillars of the University: freedom, trust, education and community. What a change this was from the bogus ‘consultations’ that led up to the University’s grotesquely mind-numbing ‘Strategic Plan’! These invitation-only consultations, stage-managed by highly paid facilitators, had scarcely progressed beyond the banal level of slogans on post-it stickers, and the resulting document was an insult to our collective intelligence. Our seminars were altogether different. They were open to all, and gave everyone the opportunity to debate the principles of the university with the sort of depth and intelligence that one would expect of colleagues and students.

On March 22nd 2016 we called another big meeting to review the results of our discussions, and as a prelude for our next step: to write a manifesto. By June 4th we had a draft of the manifesto ready for distribution. We have set up a website,, on which anyone can comment. The site has so far attracted more than 3600 visitors from around the world. We are keeping the call for comments open until September 30th; then we’ll convene another meeting in early October to debate any matters arising. We plan to launch the manifesto – appropriately revised in the light of comments and discussion – in mid-November. Our objective is to persuade members of the University Senate to endorse the principles set out therein. If, as we hope, the vote goes our way, it would not only represent a milestone in the history of our University; it would also send a clear signal for other institutions to follow.

No-one is under any illusion about the scale of the task involved in putting these principles into effect. It will take many years to repair the damage done by a generation of complacent and incompetent leadership. We know that our manifesto flies in the face of current managerial and political orthodoxy. Burt we are also convinced that our universities can only be saved from destruction by seizing the initiative ourselves. It is no good waiting for our so-called ‘leaders’ to do it for us. They have done nothing apart from line their own pockets. We hope that staff and students in other institutions will follow our example. Alone we may not succeed. But if we can all work together, and truly fight for the principles we believe in, there is still hope.

That’s why, in our manifesto, we have endeavoured to do two things. The first is to speak not just to ourselves, in the University of Aberdeen, but to colleagues everywhere.  And the second is to go beyond condemning the existing regime by setting out a positive programme for what can be put in its place: a programme for what a university of our time can and should be. Can we turn things around? Together, with your support, yes we can!