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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970

Student protests

Student protests


Professor Taylor generalises about student radicalism, starting off from particular observations about LSE, which may be partly true, to observations about student radicals everywhere, which are almost certainly false. As a professor of psychology should know, generalisations about all members of any one group, even when substantiated by some evidence, are most unlikely to be verifiable. His method of argument and his standards of proof throughout the article are startlingly lax for a senior academic.

Professor Taylor discounts bad staff-student relations as a reason for student unrest. Yet it would seem from the meagre evidence Dr Taylor offers that the most dramatic British example of student radicalism (which he observed) was at LSE—a university with bad staff-student relations.

"The militant students of LSE were unlike the radicals of earlier years who gave the place an international reputation because they were as vigorous in their revolutionary activity as in their debate". The best radical, as we all know, is a dead radical, but if Professor Taylor had said openly in support of this rotten thesis that he doesn't think modern student radicals think, one might give him credit for greater honesty. In fact, of course, none of the books which influenced the LSE radicals or express their thinking appear in Professor Taylor's bibliography; not even the Penguin Student Power volume edited by Blackburn and Cockburn which is reasonably well-known. The writers popular among the International Socialism group which was most influential at LSE include Tony Cliff, Michael Kidron, Alastair MacIntyre and Paul Foot: not surprisingly none of these writers is quoted by Taylor. It is very easy to say radicals don't think if you never bother to read what they write. Professor Taylor's attempts to summarise the views of these writers he has not read are only, need one say, travesties.

Then we move on to American universities where Professor Taylor is, if possible, even vaguer. His first approach to an original insight is alarmingly totalitarian: less attention should be paid to the quality of academic degrees and more to the "stability, enthusiasm, loyalty and responsibility of the staff", (Emphases mine). Professor Taylor's answer to student unrest, in other words, is to dilute the academic status of his staff and insist more on their commitment to the Administration. If to this prescription for academic security Professor Taylor added a demand for 'loyalty oaths' he would be in exactly the same political position as Vice-President Agnew. Teaching ability, of course, is needed among academics: but this is exactly what the student radicals, whom Professor Taylor claims are unconcerned about education, ask for.

Student radicalism is a most complex phenomenon, with very different roots in different countries, often as capable of extreme right-wing (as in Indonesia) as left-wing expression. The theories student radicalism has espoused range from situationism to Trotskyism and Stalinism and anarchism. The theories cannot be dismissed without study: they are various. An international political phenomenon cannot be discussed by tossing off generalisations about anarchism. We await a sound academic study of why radical students, for so many different reasons, in so many different places, should become politically involved at the same time. Professor Taylor's article does not add to, but diminishes from, our understanding of these matters.

Owen Gager