26 June 2012

Academia and the IPR: not mutually exclusive

There has always been a tendency to represent working in (or being associated in any way with) my incipient independent academic organisation, known as the Institute of Psychophysical Research, as if it were an alternative to an academic career, and that a career in the IPR and a university career were mutually exclusive. This has been used as a way of forcing those who became associated with me into an outcast position.

Consider, for example, the case of Dr Charles McCreery.

In his final year at New College, Charles had met me and become aware that my intellectual precocity had led to hostility which, since I was not free to make my own decisions, had ruined my education and career prospects. He recognised parallels to his own problems in those I had encountered, and saw that my position was, at least superficially, even more appalling than his own, on account of my low socioeconomic status, which in fact arose from the social displacement of two families with aristocratic antecedents.

Therefore he wanted to help me and thought that he could do so, as he saw no reason why my fund-raising, virtually aborted by the hostility of Somerville and senior academics associated with the SPR, could not immediately be put on an altogether different footing by invoking the aid of his parents and their numerous wealthy and statusful contacts.

Therefore, after his degree, he did not immediately embark on a career at the Tavistock Clinic in London or at Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, but put his energies into assisting with my fund-raising campaign. The future structure of the Institute and his possible relation to it, probably working for academic status on his own account while helping me to plan projects and organise research assistants, would depend on the scale of operation that was possible, and this could not be determined until it was seen how successful the fund-raising could be.

I was always keen on the idea of my associates working for DPhils and aiming at professorial status, so that their academic status could be used to support my own applications for Professorships.

Charles had been considering applying to work as a clinical psychologist at the Tavistock Clinic. I thought that I might prefer him to do a DPhil and proceed to an academic appointment in Oxford, but he was disenchanted with what went on at the Department and thought that he would probably prefer the Tavistock.

I deferred any discussion of the alternatives until it could be seen how successful the fund-raising could be, and what scale of operation it might permit. The more successful it was, the easier it would be to combine our research activities with Charles having a salaried job in London.

In any case, there was certainly no plan, either on his part or on mine, for his association with the Institute to involve any detraction from other career paths. It is perfectly possible for an academic – provided he is successful enough, whether in terms of peer approval, public success or fund-raising skills – to combine roles for a number of different institutions at the same time. This was certainly the idea when we started, even if in retrospect it was over-optimistic, since it underestimated the opposition we would encounter.

In fact the fund-raising was aborted by the hostility of Charles’s parents, who joined forces with those who were already hostile to us, in spite of having agreed to become Patrons, and hence ostensible supporters. General and Lady McCreery both made tiny covenants, ludicrously incommensurate with the benefits which they bestowed on Charles’s siblings.

Charles was driven into the breach with his family by their persistent and insulting hostility, in spite of the great efforts he made, over a period of at least a year, to comply with their demands. In putting so much pressure on him, one may suppose that his family were motivated to justify themselves in slandering and disinheriting him. His siblings, of course, had the additional motive of seeing the opportunity to enlarge their own shares of any inheritance from which he was excluded.

The idea has always been widely promoted that, in setting up the legal constitution of an independent academic organisation, I was setting up something in which people could work as an alternative to an academic career. My potential associates were, almost always, people with very high IQs who might normally have been regarded as good prospects for such careers. The image which tended to be foisted upon us – that of a group of ‘enthusiasts’ for some unusual area of research – was maintained by the repeated rejection of my associates for higher degrees, or for appointments.

This, of course, may have had something to do with the storms of slander which arose whenever there seemed to be a possibility of my gaining an advantage by acquiring a financial supporter or an advantageous associate.

Charles, with his family connections, was the most potentially advantageous associate I had ever had, or have had since. The fund-raising having been aborted, it was clear that his working at the Tavistock would be too demanding, in view of the costs of travel to London and accommodation when there, so that the option of taking a DPhil at the Department of Experimental Psychology now became the best possible one.

However, the pressure upon us continued to be so great that Charles did not attempt to take a DPhil until he was 44, and his then obtaining it led to nothing, as no allowance was made for the difficulties created by our anomalous position. Far from it, of course, he was stigmatised by the well-publicised awareness of his association with me, and could obtain only disadvantageous appointments, such as that of College Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at Magdalen College. For this he received only a pittance, but continued to hope that this sweated labour might lead to better opportunities.

Without going into detail about all the discriminations against him, and the rationalisations used to justify his exclusion, it became clear that he was, like me, to be kept out of any appointment worth having.

It has throughout been the case that we were motivated to do research work which would enhance our individual claims on academic careers aimed at Professorial status, but this was made impossible by the financial siege conditions. No money could reach us from any source, so research, and even the writing and publishing of books, became impossible. It remains the case that we are attempting to raise funds to enable us to establish our claim on starting our forty-year academic careers, however belatedly.