Now that the Pirates of Penryn have got their greedy mits on the booty they’ve set their course for homeward leaving the creaking hulk of Dartington College to sink unceremoniously without trace. The last members of the crew – the staff who never put up much of a fight, never mind the necessary mutiny – now wander round in post-traumatic shock, and the galley slaves, the students, watch the water rise over one of the most piss-poor deals imaginable. But then, when were they ever worthy of consideration? Remember when Cap’n Brewerton and Bosun Lindsay along with those besuited faceless apparitions, the College Governors, walked all over them? More effective than flogging them – just ignore them.
I wandered around the college recently. I couldn’t believe it. There were always students milling about outside, round the coffee machines, hanging out around Higher Close, rehearsing new work, occupying the music practice rooms. Now you can walk into any practice room and stay as long as you want. You don’t hear much in the way of distant music wafting around the campus. It feels like a ghost town - or like a place where a terrible crime was committed and everything has been left exactly as it was years ago. Those staff who have remained, along with those who have recently replaced those who got out before the writing on the wall had a chance to dry, hardly give off that Dartington exuberance, that sense of optimism and dedication that was once so attractive but has now descended into a kind of deadened, anaesthetic incredulity. It’s like a relationship that’s over, but both partners have to live in the same house for a while. It’s increasingly difficult to know what to say when you pass on the stairs. It’s like waiting for an execution.
I’m reminded of that wonderful Mike Leigh film “Secrets and Lies” in which the members of a working class family keep secrets and tell lies about each other believing that this helps to hold the family together. Of course, the exact opposite is the real truth, and there’s a great scene near the end where all the truths come pouring out in a kind of family enquiry. That’s the stage we’ve got to in the Dartington College affair. Its time for a public enquiry at the highest level into the tasteless tapestry of secrets and lies that have only fooled the most gullible and, of course, those who want to believe them. Which is hardly any. The comparison with the movie stops there, of course. The dramatis personae of the Dartington stitch-up are not working class. More like the upper middle class poncey new elite that knows what’s best for the rest of us proles who only pay the taxes and their inflated salaries. (Bread? Circuses? Let them eat replacement activities…)
We need an enquiry into what happened between the first Port Report, which recommended that the college stay put, and the second which suggested it “relocate”. We need to know why such a huge turnaround happened, who fell out with who and why. We need to know who calculated that the college was “unsustainable” on the Dartington Estate, who they consulted, how they arrived at their figures, and who checked them over. Given that the news of closure was the result of a leak to the press, we need to know, when it would have been disclosed, and why students were never told – not then, and not at subsequent interviews. We need to know why £20 million – the sum I heard the Dartington Hall Trust’s CEO Vaughan Lindsay give at a meeting in November 2006 – has not been made available to keep the college where it belongs, yet much more than that has magically been found to fund the so-called merger with University College Falmouth.
Dartington Hall Trust, the Higher Education Funding Council, the Regional Development Agency, the European funders, the college Governors, and the college executive have all been hell-bent on destroying the college, citing unsolvable financial problems as the reason. Given that money is available for the destruction of the college we need to know why moving to Falmouth is everybody’s pet project, who gets what out of it, and why the option of staying at Dartington was never put to any funding body, quango or executive. We need to know what, exactly, is so odious about Dartington College of Arts that all the gangsters and pirates of the Ed. Biz and beyond have ganged up against it.
We need an enquiry into why no funding body was ever approached to fund the college on the estate. We need an enquiry into why the views of all democratically publicly elected bodies and representatives were ignored, marginalised or simply trampled on. In particular we need an enquiry into the behaviour of characters like Mark Taylor, Vice Principal, whose letter to the Mayor of Totnes warning him off the Save Dartington College Campaign was unprofessional and an utter disgrace. Not that I would expect anything else from the man who, at the Hearing against me, gleefully twisted my words and got me the sack. I need an enquiry into why that was ever allowed to happen. And we need to be clear about who really deserves the sack. Mr. Taylor? Or perhaps the Regional Development Agency that made crucial decisions on the basis of false information, bugged meetings with Save Dartington College Campaigners, reconvened to make the same decision again despite – on its own admission – the “driver” of the Dartington Hall Trust evicting the college was now seen to be false.
We need an enquiry into why those bodies responsible for appalling decisions didn’t even turn up to the Devon Country Scrutiny Meeting to answer questions. That covers the Dartington College of Arts Executive, the Regional Development Agency, and the Dartington Hall Trustees. If we recall that the Mayor of Totnes plus half a dozen Save Dartington campaigners did attend that meeting we get a fair picture of who really cares about this nasty business, and who couldn’t give a toss now that they think they’ve got their way.
We need an enquiry into why proposals which could have kept a college on site were rejected out of hand. There was idea which argued that although Dartington might become part of Falmouth it could still have been University College Falmouth’s arts campus. There was the King-MacAdie plan which solved the student residencies problem by placing them off the Estate – with the cooperation of the Duke of Somerset, no less. Why did the two local businessmen who had put time, effort and ingenuity into their plan feel so insulted and alienated when they tried to explain it to a brick wall?
We need an enquiry – urgently and before it happens – into what, exactly, is going to merge with Falmouth.. According to Mark Taylor’s written submission to the Devon County scrutiny meeting which he did not attend, Dartington College of Arts is wholly the property of the Dartington Hall Trust. It has now, as from April 6th, merged with University College Falmouth. So we need an enquiry into how this is possible. Is it a legal entity or an abstract notion that has “merged”. We need an enquiry into why it is costing millions to merge. A mere handful of academic staff might move, no support staff as far as we know, and not all the courses - apparently – will continue.
Will the college prospectus be used in the merger? Not likely. The Falmouth people don’t like it, have demanded its withdrawal, and insist on it being re-written. More money wasted.
What else might “merge”? The assets of the college? Wrong again – they’re owned by the Trust. Students? Now let’s stop guessing. Recruitment is down thirty per cent and more on some courses. What about the recently opened buildings and state-of-the-art studios constructed with public money? Well unless they’re moved brick by brick that’s going to be a problem. In any case the Trust owns them – or rather the Trust is poised to nick them when the college vacates them. (But never mind. University College Falmouth will be erecting new buildings so the money can be spent twice.) Not even the name of the college can merge – the Trust owns it. The tax-paying public is entitled to know why scads of its money is being poured down the drain, or worse, ending up as part of the real estate of a private concern. That’s another reason we need an enquiry.
We need an enquiry into the bullying, mobbing and coercive tactics that typified the management of the college when Andrew Brewerton was Principal. This extended to staff and students. It involved the right to free speech. It may be that some victims of the bullying may wish for their own reasons to keep what happened to them secret. This, of course, would only prove the effectiveness of the bullying, and if such an enquiry happens – as well it should – these cowardly ones should consider the harmful effect of their silence.
We need an enquiry into the role of the Schumacher College in all this. Schumacher’s Director Karen Blincoe commented in the Totnes Times of January 31st 2007 that people “who study at Schumacher College do so because they want to be of service to the planet, rather than themselves”. Given the context of distancing Schumacher College from the Save Dartington College Campaign, this was a clear dig at the arts college and a stupidly ignorant view of the arts to boot. None should be surprised at the indecent haste with which Schumacher College’s intention to take over the arts college campus was recently declared.
Gordon Brown said recently: “We want every town and city to have a college or university”. In light of this we need an enquiry into why Totnes, Seale Hayne and Exmouth are losing theirs. Or maybe Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair might provide an answer. After all Andrew Brewerton was on his committee which dealt with Higher Education.