I had been more than a little disconcerted by what I discovered of the administration of Dundee University since I became Rector two months ago. In particular, at my first University Court meeting, held the first working day after I took office, the University administration forced through the closure of undergraduate teaching in modern languages and in town planning, and adopted a five year framework of cuts. Accepting hypothetically that short term savings were necessary, I could not see the need for the immediate adoption of a five year programme before their Rector had even had time to read through the papers (which I received two hours before the meeting). Interestingly every academic and graduate representative on Court voted against the cuts, but they were rammed through by an array of co-opted members, who appeared without exception to be either businessmen or from the government’s educational administration establishment.
The atmosphere at the meeting really was an appalling bulldoze. I waited some time before catching the Chairman’s eye, and was astonished when, one minute into my first observation, the Chairman rudely interrupted me to allow the Principal to “Correct” me. This happened several times in the meeting, to me and to others. I wondered who this chairman could be – his name was John Milligan. More on that later.
In short, the Univeristy appeared to have come a long way from being the self-governing democratic community it is supposed to be. In the analysis given by the University administration of different academic departments, they were viewed solely in financial terms. Just what they cost and what they brought in. There was no mention of educational values or wider societal considerations.
It also was plain there was an inner group who were running things, and each subject was introduced with people primed to support. I was sitting close enough to the Chairman to note that while he acknowledged those wishing to speak and ostentiously was writing a list of names, he would vary the order of the list when he felt a need to influence the debate.
It was also plain, from numerous little indications, that this was not just a clique in charge, it was a New Labour clique. This became even more plain at my second Court meeting on Monday, when the Principal, Sir Alan Langlands, spoke of a recent visit to the Life Sciences Department by the vacuous Scottish First Minister, Jack McConell, in quite blatantly electoral terms.
(In Scottish parliamentary elections on 3 May the Labour Party looks set to lose political control of Scotland for the first time in fifty years).
I might have let that go, but for what followed. The University has been in discussions with the Victoria and Albert Museum about the possibility of opening a branch museum in Dundee. It is a wonderful idea – the V & A has vastly more than it can display, and it would bring jobs and tourists to Dundee.
However Sir Alan Langlands said to the Court that a public announcement would be likely to be made by Jack McConnell in the context of an election promise.
That really is too much. This has nothing to do with New Labour – the discussions have been between the University and the V&A. To try to use this University initiative to New Labour advantage is completely illegitimate. The University of course sits in Dundee West, a key Labour/SNP marginal. I therefore said at Court that the University needed to be careful to avoid identification with any political party.
I was still wondering who this Chairman of Court, John Milligan, was and how he had got the job. I have been a member of the University since 1977, and had not come across him. He is not a man who exudes the mores of higher education.
Then today all became clear. As’I am currently in Ekaterinburg, I saw it several days late, but I came across reports that one John Milligan, ex-Chairman of Atlantic Power, on the Sunday Times rich list, and (wait for it…) a high profile donor to the Labour Party, had organised and paid for an advertisement attacking the idea of Scottish Independence, signed by a lot of rich people, some of them very unpleasant indeed.
The move was widely reported to be inspired by Gordon Brown and timed to coincide with his electioneering breakfast in Edinburgh.
Among those who had signed for Milligan and Brown was the Principal of just one of Scotland’s thirteen universities. You guessed it, Milligan’s team-mate, Sir Alan Langlands of Dundee University.
As these two are so keen to help New Labour by entering into the hurly-burly of politics, let us treat them to some of the heat.
Alan Langlands has questions to answer. After retiring in August 2000 as Chief Executive of the NHS, in March 2001 he quickly reemerged as a Director of Patientline, the disgraced rip-off company which enjoys a monopoly of patient personal communications in the NHS. They charge the ill – who are disproportionately poor and elderly – 26p a minute to make a call and 49p a minute to recieve one. They also provide personal televisions at great cost, and, worst of all, have campaigned succesfully to have mobile phones, pay phones and communal TVs removed from hospitals. Langlands was a Director of Patientline when I was in Westminster Hospital for two months in Autumn 2003 and unable to talk to Nadira as Patientline phones won’t call, or receive from, Uzbekistan. He resigned in 2004.
Patientline is one of the most appalling examples of greed triumphing over the needs of ordinary people in Blair’s Britain. But for Langlands to move so quickly from heading the NHS which gave Patientline its monopoly, to the board of Patientline, is in my view of the world a disgrace which in a civilsed country ought to be be criminal. What do you think?
As for Milligan, we know the rewards that giving money to the Labour Party might bring. Who is to say that the chairmanship of a University is not that sort of carrot? The University is now sewn up very tight indeed, with all future appointments having to be initiated by a nomination committee of just six people, of whom Milligan and Langlands are two, and at least two others are from their “Trusty” circle. At the last committee it made two appointments – from amongst its six members.
This whole sorry tale of New Labour Croneyism is typical of much of Scotland, but relatively new in the University sector. I do hope that it causes a backlash of revulsion. I urge everybody with a vote to vote anything but Labour on May 3.