Why the occupation supports action directed at David Eastwood

“But first I must give a definition of what I mean by independent study… It is that the student should have significant control over the purpose, direction, content, method, pace, location, monitoring assessment, and criteria of final assessment of their studies. Variations in the scale of independence can be gauged by the extent to which a student has control of each of the above, and to what proportion of the student’s total educational experience it extends.” - J. Stephenson.

“The expansion of value, which is the objective basis or main-spring of the circulation M-C-M [Money – Commodity – More Money], becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will.” - K. Marx.

David Eastwood is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. He therefore constitutes a legitimate target for direct action undertaken to further democratic reform of the University, as well as other demands outlined by the current occupation (available here: demands). We are writing this statement as a means of pre-empting criticism that in targeting David Eastwood we are personalising (and thus parochialising) a campaign that is aimed at the general reformation of the University of Birmingham and higher education more broadly. We have both theoretical and empirical reasons why we think that David Eastwood and other senior managers constitute legitimate targets for peaceful direct action.

In any institution, people are defined by their roles. This is no different at the University of Birmingham, with the added dimension that the undemocratic, top-down decision-making structure of this corporatised university puts the VC and other senior management in a powerful position to determine the shape and direction of the University and its policies. This leads us to conclude that, given the immense power accumulated by the senior management in this undemocratic institution, that (high-level) individuals are now culpable and blameworthy with regard to the lamentable state of our university at present.

David Eastwood is the personification of the corporate agenda for the reform of higher education in the UK. He sat on the Browne Review – the body responsible for developing policy-recommendations that furthered the privatisation of higher education in the UK. He has also been a vocal advocate for the increase of fees to £9, 000 and beyond. Eastwood himself advocates fees for undergraduates of around £16, 000 and it is easy to see why: he believes that higher education ought to be an industry which can generate masses of wealth for capital and those in strategically powerful positions within the universities themselves. He himself has taken full advantage of the corporatisation of the University of Birmingham to see that his wage was increased to £419,000 per annum; on the other hand, support staff and other workers within the university are paid near-poverty wages and are facing further reductions in pay and increasingly precarious conditions – through the alteration of contracts which has so far been avoided by mass worker and student mobilisation.

Eastwood receives other benefits for being the voice of privatisation and deregulation in the HE sector. He lives in a rent-free house which the University pays to refurbish (a recent bill standing at £282,000), as well as receiving a car and driver for his efforts. Eastwood also uses his high position to publish articles in the press arguing for less transparency in decision(sausage)-making and legislation for higher educationi. No wonder given the instrumental role he has had in the recent re-organisation and decimation of higher education.

David Eastwood acts as the de facto leader of the University of Birmingham, with his crew of management cronies working to realise a shared will to see higher education become another commons enclosed by capital. More involvement from private investment, less public subsidies, less say for students who are increasingly treated as consumers and, as such, not expected to have any real say about the direction and nature of their education outside of crudely abstract student surveys. Furthermore, academic staff are now seen as the functionaries of a successful business, with their academic freedom curtailed in favour of point-scoring work which the University can sell to bolster its façade of prestige and, vitally, to realise increased profits through intellectual property development. David Eastwood and his management team are acting to pave the way for the realisation of the corporate university in full, and they use their powerful position within the institution to override any resistance within and without. As such, we must view them for what they are: true enemies of free and democratic education, workers and students. Therefore, we feel that any peaceful direct action which targets Eastwood and his senior managers is not only legitimate, but strategically important given the decision-making power and symbolic status they have concentrated in their own hands. If they will not listen willingly, we must be prepared to make them listen, and if direct action is the only way of achieving this, then we will use it, again and again and again.

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