Archive for November, 2012

Academics, students and anyone who  cares about what is happening to Higher Education these days will be interested in this very interesting article at New Left Project by student activist, Feyzi Ismail.  [Click here].

Anyone who has been following the raft of public scandals in Britain in recent years will not only be feeling numbed by it all at by now but will also be struck by the recurrence of a particular buzz phrase: “learning the lessons” or sometimes the variant, “a lessons learned process”.  This seems to have replaced that woeful phrase used to manage the current financial crisis: “We are where we are” and, by implication, “lets move on now rather than looking to see how we got here and whose fault it is.”  Yet both gambits have a virtue in common: in a few words, they fend off questions of responsibility and possibly even punishment. “We are where we are. Let’s learn the lessons, move on and forget all about it”. It’s so easy!

The British Army talked about learning lessons and its lessons learned process in the wake of the Aitken Report into cases of abuse and unlawful killing of civilians in Iraq (2008) and, again, in response to the findings of the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday (2010). South Yorkshire police talked about learning the lessons of the Hillsborough disaster after the publication of the Independent Panel Report in September this year. During the Leveson Inquiry into the press, editors, journalists and politicians talk about learning the lessons of the phone hacking scandal and the corrupt relationships between journalism and politics or journalism and the police. Social services in Wales have today (8 November) reassured the public that they have in place an “over-arching lessons learned process” to “learn the lessons” of the current child abuse scandal that has dominated public debate in the past few weeks. I haven’t yet heard the BBC talk about learning lessons in the wake of the revelations about Jimmy Saville but I am sure readers can think of many other examples of this apparent craze among public figures, bodies and institutions for learning lessons of past wrongs. As it stands, we’ve seen lots of lessons learned in these cases but so far no prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

The key point I want to make here, though, is what all this talk about learning lessons is nothing more than a public relations response to getting caught. I would be rather more impressed if some public individual or institution came clean about some crime or misdemeanour without having to be investigated or exposed. Maybe the government should set up a permanent Public Truth Commission by which guilty public figures and institutions could fess up without fear of disciplinary action or legal prosecution? Alternatively, maybe as a private individual I should adopt the lessons learned strategy? If on some day I’m stopped by the police for speeding or hauled up before the University disciplinary committee for fiddling my expenses, I will bow my head humbly and assure my accusers that there is no need to take punitive measures against me because I have in place an overarching lessons learned process to deal not just with my present wrongdoing but with all those I’m likely to commit in the future. Surely that will make everything okay?  No?

No. That wouldn’t work at all because as a private individual I am subject to the laws of the land and the regulations of my employer. If I am found guilty of a breach of those laws or regulations, I am obliged to accept responsibility and do my time. That’s as it should be. So why is the standard so different in public life?