Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Update on the Ruskin archives scandal

Further to this, a statement on status of destruction of archival material at Ruskin college, Oxford on 15 October 2012 by Dr Hilda Kean FRHistS

Archive material dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century of the internationally renowned labour movement college, Ruskin College, Oxford has been destroyed and material constituting its radical history has been dispersed. The integrity of the material in the college as an archive of working class history no longer exists. Sadly, this process of destruction and dispersal has not finished. This is a short summary of what has happened.

Archive material:

Student records

Unique student files from c.1900 to c.2000 containing application forms, details of union sponsorship, progress within the college, in some instances press cuttings on future activity

What’s happened?

All the contents of the student files have been destroyed. Some bare bones material has been digitised (not scanned).

Student records from 1940s

As of last week some student files remained awaiting the same fate

What’s happened?

There have been no guarantees that any of the remaining material will be saved

Records of the Ruskin Student Union

Cupboard full of records and material relating to the Ruskin Students Union collected for many years by librarian 1972 – 2004

What’s happened?

Thrown away as cupboard space was needed

Duplicate pamphlets

Duplicates of rare labour movement pamphlets including those on the history of the college

What’s happened?

Shredded – rather than given to another library – as space was at a premium in the new library

Former student dissertations

Although until recently most courses were not full degrees students nevertheless wrote dissertations. Several of these have been published.

What’s happened?

As the principal instructed, on July 11th, many have been destroyed:

‘Please do not mention the SW DiPSW work to anyone but dispose of it straight away. ..Out go those 23 boxes. Now, please. The SW BA work is different matter and will go to a SW storage area in the Rookery. I will talk to SW about this. Social Studies 2000-2003 is out, please. Straight away. We no longer teach that course. Also chuck the English earlier 8 boxes. Not to be mentioned to anyone - thanks. More recent 2 to … Same goes for Employment Relations - 2000- 2002 . Out, please. Please do the chucking straight away and I will talk to relevant tutors who are getting the rest, in advance of the move.

Records on the National Register of Archives:

These included historic labour movement collections such as the Middleton collection or those relating to Oxford.

What’s happened?

All items on the Register have been dispersed to other collections – People’s History Museum or Oxfordshire Local Record office

Historic ephemera:

Artefacts reflected the radical history of the college and were on public prominent display. These included a painting of Bernard Shaw, a plaque to Charles Bowerman, former president of the TUC, painting of Raphael Samuel, anti-apartheid photographic mural, miners’ banner from 1984-5 strike

What’s happened?

All have gone to other institutions or individuals. Miners’ banner is no longer displayed in the library but in a satellite building in a corridor on way to toilet.

Academic and former student response etc.

To date over 3,700 people have signed the petition to stop further destruction. These include: Sarah Waters, Alan Bennett, M Lewycka, Sir Brian Harrison former editor of the Oxford DNB; Dr Nick Mansfield former director of the People’s History Museum; Dr Eve Setch History publisher at Routledge; Professor Alison Light (widow of Raphael Samuel); Professor Jonathan Rose author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes; Stewart Maclennan, chair of the Scottish Labour History Society; Harry Barnes, former Labour MP and former Ruskin student; Professor Geoff Whitty, former director of the Institute of Education; Professor Pat Thane, co-founder of History and Policy; Alice Kessler-Harris former President, Organization of American Historians; Dr Andrew Foster, Chair of the Public History Committee of the Historical Association; Professor Geoff Eley, Chair of the History Department at the University of Michigan; Dr. Serge Noiret, Chair of the International Federation for Public History, Italy; Dorothy Sheridan, former archivist of the Mass Observation archive; Dr. Roger Fieldhouse, joint author of A History of Modern British Adult Education and hundreds and hundreds of former Ruskin students and staff.

What has been the response of the college?

In response to a letter to the Guardian (and college management) by Prof Ken Jones and 17 other distinguished academics Audrey Mullender replied on October 8th : ‘You should all be ashamed of yourselves, as senior academics, for not checking your facts. I am ashamed of my profession on your behalf.’ In response to a letter to college management by Professor Jane Caplan and 9 other Oxford historians, the principal replied on October 10th : ‘As none of you has troubled to check the facts with us despite belonging to a discipline where I thought you were supposed to go to primary sources wherever possible, I shall only respond to a request for accurate information and not to a muddled set of allegations’

Although Bishopsgate Institute advised the college management that it could could take unwanted material in July, management did not take up that offer. A statement to governors on 9 October that suggests that it did not know that such provision could be made for storing of records is highly misleading. Various people including historians advised the college management of the possibility of storing archives elsewhere, if not wanted in the college, in August and September. At that time, inter alia, the College Principal stated on September 30th ‘I also resent the allegation that I did not consult. I consulted the person in College who had relevant responsibility: the Data Protection Officer. There is no problem. It does not need to be resolved. This conversation is now closed.’

Position now:

John Prescott said when shown his own files "I was amazed how detailed they were. Every little scrap had been retained, from bills to private reports on my progress. I hadn't known how hard Ruskin had worked on my behalf to get me there."

Most of such similar files have gone. College management has not said that it will save the remaining student records despite worldwide petitioning and emails and letters.

What can people do?

Despite thousands of signatures on the petition and emails of protest we have no guarantee that the few
remaining student files are safe. Please spread this position widely and if you have not done so already write to governors asking them to stop further destruction.

The Chair of governors is David Norman, retired trade union officer from CWU

Vice chair Carole Orgell-Rosen Carole is a nominee from the Ruskin Fellowship, the alumni association.

Other members at July 2012:
Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary Public and Commercial Services Union

Jane Dixon, head of Denman College

John Fray, former NUJ deputy general secretary

Anne Hock of Popularis, a company managing ballots and elections

Roger McKenzie, Unison West Midlands regional secretary

Jo Morris, former women’s officer at TUC

Marva Small, former student

Doug Nicholls, national officer for youth work, Unite the Union

Professor John Raftery, Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) Oxford Brookes University

Pauline Ryall from WEA

Alan Shepherd,secretary of the Ruskin Fellowship, the alumni association

Colin Taylor of Oxford City football club

Van Coulter, Oxford city councillor (and former Ruskin student)

Staff members are:

Kieron Winters (Unison)

Alan Irwin (UCU)

Peter Dwyer (UCU)

2 student members:

Karl Gay

Geraldine Sherratt

and the principal Audrey Mullender

Further background:

General position


Background to what has been lost, by Ruskin librarian 1972 – 2004 David Horsfield :

What digitisation does and doesn’t mean see blog:

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