Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

Protesting against critical psychologist Ian Parker’s suspension

From various sources, located in different countries across the globe, I have received the message, in inverted commas, below, signed by China Mills. It concerns the suspension, from Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain, of Ian Parker, one of the best known and most influential critical psychologists in the world today, who is also a practising psychoanalyst.

Needless to say, even when seen in the context of the increasing attempts, on the part of the Conservative government in Britain, to limit freedom of (critical) speech at universities (in what is one of the oldest democracies of the modern world), it still comes as a shock that this has actually happened. I shall let the letter from China Mills speak for itself; suffice it to say, on my own and Ian’s many other friends and colleagues’ behalf, that this is a person whose work is predicated on the possibility of creating the space for people, who are oppressed in many different ways in contemporary society, to assess their own relationship with power, and to act in an emancipatory manner.

The charge against Ian from the university makes absolutely no sense; in fact, it is couched in terms that are designed to hide, rather than reveal the true reasons for his suspension. It is of utmost importance that academics all over the world, and not only in the United Kingdom, see this for what it is, namely the creeping assault on fundamental democratic rights by those in power, who has everything to gain by silencing those who expose their repressive practices. Critical psychologist Desmond Painter of Stellenbosch University has also written something about this.

Here is the letter from China Mills:

“Dearest friends, something incredibly shocking has happened. Ian Parker has been suspended from Manchester Metropolitan University. It has happened suddenly and unexpectedly, and students and staff at the University have been given little to no explanation as to why.

Ian was suspended from work after having been unable to arrange, with barely 18 hours notice, for a union official to come with him to hear a charge that the university said amounted to ‘gross professional misconduct’. What this seems to mean is that Ian raised concerns within the University about the problem of secrecy and control in the department in which he works, and was suspended for doing so. Ian has had to leave his office and key, been told not to contact University staff and students, and his access to his email has been suspended. For his students Ian has simply ‘disappeared’ overnight, and while he is keen to continue supervising and teaching, he is not allowed to.

I could never fully express what effect Ian’s sudden, shocking and completely unjustified suspension might mean for students at MMU and for the wider international academic community. Ian’s suspension is happening against a wider backdrop in the UK where while universities are now charging students £9 000 a year (and much more for international students), they are also cutting essential resources, often meaning staff have to work harder and complain less. This means that those staff who defend the University as a space for open and democratic deliberation are often put under pressure to remain silent. In fact another member of staff at MMU (and another member of the University and College Union- the UCU), Christine Vié, is also being victimised, and has been made compulsorily redundant (and there is an ongoing campaign to defend her).

We are in shock, but only if we speak openly together will we be in a position to challenge and change what is happening to all of us. Openness and democratic debate are the hallmarks of good education. Yet secrecy and silencing are key issues here. Ian has been silenced but his work continues to speak. Yesterday I looked at the principle aims of ‘Psychology, Politics, Resistance’, which Ian helped to set up in 1994 as a network of people who were prepared to oppose the abusive uses and oppressive consequences of psychology, to support individuals to challenge exploitation, to develop a collective active opposition to oppression, and to make this a key element in the education of all psychologists. So, let’s act together, and follow Ian’s example, and speak out – tell as many people as we can, and come together collectively as an international critical community to call upon the management of MMU to come to a resolution of this problem and to reinstate Ian.

Messages of protest can be sent to the Vice-Chancellor John Brooks ([email protected]) and the Head of the Department of Psychology Christine Horrocks ([email protected]). These messages can be copied as messages of solidarity to the MMU UCU chair Pura Ariza ([email protected]) and it is imperative that, at the same time, support should be stepped up to support Christine Vié ([email protected]).

The postgraduate students at MMU are sending a letter to the Vice Chancellor, and there will be flyers and posters put up on campus, and call outs in lectures all next week. Please do send letters and emails, and tell as many people as you can.

We will keep you posted about further action, and do let us know if you have any ideas for how we can fight this together (because we can fight this together). Please feel free to email me [email protected]

In solidarity,
China Mills (alongside many of the students at MMU)”

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