For a biased rag that backs Leveson in muzzling the British press from protesting, today's comment piece in defence of student protest in the Guardian must have slipped under the subs' radar. The Guardian is too dependent on expensive job ads from the undistinguished commercial universities to knowingly upset them.
When I went back to Uni to do my Masters in the 1990s the change from the end of the 70s was already too apparent; gone was the scholarly collegiality that made dons and students older and younger equals, gone was the shared disdain for bureaucratic formality and gone was the likelihood of finding your missing lecturer on the picket line. Gone too was the heady freedom of intellectual discovery in a hothouse in which writing and the written word blazed paths of light and changed lives. By the 90s it had become a degree factory, and a poor and mediocre one at that.
Now Uni is become like a Victorian school but with criminal penalties for infractions. Gone are the days when everyone from the Chancellor down would zealously protect the rights of the University within its walls to administer justice; Plod was not permitted beyond the gatehouse. Now the truly mediocre staff take video footage of deviant students for the police. Littering the common hall with discarded agit leaflets, which once but no more were printed at the cost of the university, now earns dismissal for littering. The commercial universities (all of them except the Russell Group) are simply too piss-poor academically, with third-rate staff and bulked out with foreign milk-cow students, to be anything other than low-grade commercially marginal enterprises on a par with private language schools and driving instruction centres.
That the police are now encouraged to act against protesting students - once something that would have caused outrage amongst the staff - is I think symptomatic of something pointed out recently by two correspondents. Katabasis identifies an 'anarcho-tyranny' that ignores grand offences for which the political class literally get away with murder (North Staffordshire NHS) but that enforces pettyfogging rules in a tyranny of mass control. And of immediate concern, Greg reminds me that IPNAS, set to replace ASBOs, have been condemned as an assault on our basic freedom by a former DPP. They would certainly be used by the managers of the commercial universities (who are as entitled to dignify their management team with the description of 'faculty' as the Scientologists are to term their cult a 'church') to stop even a bunch of students from handing out leaflets at the gate.
During the blockade of Berlin in the Winter of 1948 an aide (it could have been Willy Brandt) brought Mayor-elect Ernst Reuter the news that students were protesting. To everyone's astonishment, Reuter was delighted; nothing could have given him greater assurance that the desire for democracy was strong in the people of Berlin. We may not agree with them, and indeed we don't have to, but preserving the rights of students to protest is a fundamental indicator of democratic health that we forego at our peril.