Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Update on attempt by MMU to suspend Ian Parker (2)

Here is the rest of the account regarding events surrounding Ian Parker at MMU in the UK:

“The worst outcome for the neoliberal university is that it fails to persuade its staff that anyone who complains has a problem, and MMU has done its level best to make it seem that the problem here was that individuals had misbehaved. They insinuated in the charge of ‘gross professional misconduct’ that there were other misdemeanours that staff and students knew nothing about. Neoliberal capitalism calls on each individual to become economically self-sufficient, and it also requires that those who act collectively to defend their interests be pathologised and excluded. A common mistake is to see neoliberalism as a mere theory about how people sell themselves and their products on the open market, and this overlooks the necessity for strong disciplinary structures to enforce separation of individuals from each other and adaptation to the rules of the game. In this case, mass collective protest through the petition, the sharing of letters and meetings to discuss strategy were essential to success of the campaign.

The disciplinary panel tried to blame Ian for orchestrating the protests, for example, and it showed contempt for the self-activity of students and trade union members in MMU. But the panel had to reduce the charge to ‘serious misconduct’ and the penalty (which first looked set to be dismissal), was reduced to a ‘final written warning’ and a demand for a letter of apology as a condition for Ian’s return to work. It is an indication of the desperation of MMU management to get this ‘wretched affair’ over and done with (as an email from the head of department of psychology to staff put it), that his very limited and specific apology – a letter that did not concede an inch on the right of trade union members to challenge management – should have been accepted. He was then ordered with two days notice to ‘return to work’.

Ian was right to apologise for the wording of specific emails (and one naming another colleague who was looking particularly sick with stress was sent accidentally to the whole department – he felt he needed to apologise again for that), and to dispel the idea that the problem of management practices at MMU could be reduced to the nastiness of one particular manager – the head of department – who then felt undermined when challenged. In fact, this manager would even have good grounds for complaint against MMU for being made to carry out their bidding. This manager had told Ian when they crossed a picket line he was attending earlier in the year that they feared losing their job, and their crime during this year is largely no more than that they were willing to be an obedient servant of the university apparatus. It is not so much a case of good individual against bad, but of individualising forces of power against collective forces of resistance.

Ian is appealing against the ‘final written warning’ designed to muzzle his trade union work, and he is asking that he should be allowed to return to work in another faculty (not the one that he now has a formal grievance against MMU bullying and harassment for, and from which he is currently away from with a medical note for anxiety and stress). Ian is also demanding that the Vice Chancellor retract his comments about the case made to a group of students and international visitors delivering the petition on the morning his disciplinary hearing was taking place (where the VC claimed it was one of the most serious cases he had dealt with and that not all the facts will be made public, and he has now referred Ian’s complaint about that to the appeal panel). The appeal date is set for 30 January, a date for the grievance has not been set, and MMU are refusing to reply to the request for a transfer. For them to give way clearly risks sending a message to staff in the department that it is possible to protest and negotiate conditions of service with management.

Isolation or mobilisation

MMU had to acknowledge in their disciplinary panel report that Ian had the right to question management procedures as a UCU representative (and so for that questioning no apologies were needed), but now management is on the attack again; it is using a new charge of infraction of email etiquette as an excuse to threaten other union activists (in one case, would you believe it, a branch official has now been accused of being ‘passive-aggressive’ on email). A danger now is that the negotiation about his fate is conducted one-to-one, that an attempt to strike a deal will replace collective public debate about how UCU members should defend themselves in the university, and how those who are isolated and frightened by management should be encouraged to join the union and speak out together about what is being done to them.

In November, while the protest was at its height, another member of staff in the psychology department who is not a UCU member (the colleague specifically named by Ian in one of his May emails about workload stress) had enough, and resigned without another job to go to. Within a day his office was empty, there was no leaving event for him (and the head of department sent an email hypocritically announcing his departure with fulsome praise for all the good work he had done). The warning here is that a strong state instituted by the university will crush individuals acting alone, and instead we need to develop a strong united response.

So still now, and more than ever, we face a choice between covering up and speaking out, between strategies of isolation or collective mobilisation. The struggle against the discipline implemented as a necessary component of the neoliberal university is a trade union struggle, but it is clear that it needs to link with self-mobilisation by students and international solidarity. Something different was opened up during these events, and the lesson is that resistance is not futile. Some significant gains were made, but the activity that made possible an alternative now needs to built upon and extended. What happens to Ian now is one question. What happens next at MMU will set the terms for all our work.”

This account (parts 1 and 2) was first published at:

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    • Maria

      After reading these two posts on the Ian Parker saga, I can’t help thinking of what Lacan calls the “discourse of the capitalist”, which mimics that of the hysteric (revolutionary), but in truth is in the service of the master’s discourse. That is clearly the case with MMU. I am glad to say that there is a chapter on this very issue of the capitalist’s discourse in your recent book, of which I have just bought a copy. For anyone interested, it is available at:

    • Frans Verloop

      Audi alterem partem. I would like to see the university’s version before coming to a conclusion. Media and people on the left are often very selective in their factual material.
      Frans Verloop

    • Frans Verloop

      Audi alterem partem. I would like to see the university’s version before coming to a conclusion. Media and people on the left are often very selective in their factual material.

    • Paul Whelan

      Bert/Maria – If MMU’s account exemplifies the discourse of the capitalist, this text must by the same reasoning exemplify the discourse of the socialist resistance organization.

      Frans Verloop is not the first reader to observe, implicitly, that the only readers who can decide anything from the above are those who have made up their mind about it already.

    • Garg Unzola

      I think he’s doing himself in with polemic like ‘neoliberal university’ and other ideologically loaded yet intellectually vacuous statements. The MMU is after all a public university, and thus not neoliberal or capitalist in any meaningful sense. Any reference to capitalist discourse is thus pure hysteria and does not distract from the fact that Parker was supposedly suspended for ignoring a direct instruction from his management.

      It appears a bit pathetic to set himself up as some revolutionary martyr fighting The System or The Man, particularly when he’s doing so from a public university.

      More on this:

    • suntosh

      Thanks for posting this Bert. Critical psychology is about developing “a bad attitude towards authority” and so it is unsurprising that Ian Parker will fight this cause and, probably, even further boost his street cred as a critical-academic-activist.

    • john patson

      MMU is a former polytech and has obviously kept its polytech mentality after all these years. Sounds a lot like the University of KwaZulu Natal.

    • Paul Whelan

      Leaving aside this particular case, of which we have only one side, what needs to be developed, I would suggest, is not ‘a bad attitude towards authority’ but a critical attitude. If we agree on that, a further judgment is then called for as to what are acceptable forms of criticism.

      Is a sit-in by supportive students acceptable? Is bringing an institution of learning to a complete halt?

    • Jerome

      Why don’t they just fire the guy?

      Clearly, what is wrong here is that they can’t, that the world, or the UK at any rate, is already so degenerate that the moronic masses can dictate to the excellent few.

      Sic transit gloria mundi – Not with a bang but a whimper.

    • Brent

      Best solution is make Ian the VP and kick out all ‘neo liberals’ (whatever that means) and their fellow travelers. Bert will have a happy New Year and thankfully regale us with problems closer to home and are more relevant.


    • Maria

      @ Jerome: Problem is, they’ve realized that Parker is one of the few really “excellent” guys, intellectually speaking, and that they would be seen as negating everything a university stands for if they fired him. Hence their turnaround. No one can deny Ian Parker’s intellectual prowess; just read one of his many books, and you’ll see why. Then go on to ask yourself why he opposes the neoliberal corporatization of the university, worldwide. A moron would not do that. The point is – and here I am answering Paul too – that neoliberal capitalism is no less totalitarian and coercive than fascism and Stalinist communism were. The only difference is that it operates through economic means, by cutting off universities’ and departments’ economic lifeline if they do not promote the kinds of professions that would keep the economic status quo intact. Hence their intolerance of truly “critical” thinkers. The tame kind of “critical” thought and so-called “lateral thinking” that neoliberal authorities encourage, is the kind that only serves to “perfect” and strengthen the status quo.

    • Paul Whelan

      @Maria – In the end that is the difference between us, really. I do not believe neoliberal capitalism is no less totalitarian and coercive than fascism and Stalinist communism. And what is more important, though theories have been skilfully developed and argued to make it appear so and to convince large numbers of people, I do not find experience bears the assertion out.

    • Garg Unzola

      Even though the Neoliberal/Capitalist paradigm is inappropriate here, let’s take this as a given. It would imply that if the discourse unit did hold value for someone, it would not be shut down or in any threat of being shut down. Provided of course that this is the situation, but we don’t know.

      We only have half the story. It does not appear like the university is trying not to lose an important intellectual, it appears more like a union tussle with the university and a case of conflict of interest.

      It really is premature to give support either side without all the facts and it is truly laughable to jump on the anti-Neoliberalism bandwagon just because a Comrade is in trouble.

    • stumpf

      this “self styled” anti-neo-liberal did not stop to observe that
      MMU is a public university, paid by taxes (mostly)

      every now and then some Marxism helps, who pays him?
      this gang of real liberals has to endorse the junk that they have divinely given right to insist on thei junk at taxpayers’ expenses.