Observations on universities
As the dust settles on one of the bitterest industrial disputes under the government of Tony Blair, many university lecturers find themselves reflecting not only on their 13.1 per cent pay rise - spread over three years - but also on some unwelcome discoveries they have made about their students.
We knew already that this generation felt almost no affinity with the politics of their predecessors in the 1970s and 1980s, or with such notions as free collective bargaining. What we did not recognise was the depth of the animosity some feel for these ideas.
To be fair, most students were shocked to find that many lecturers earned even less than school teachers, and the National Union of Students (NUS) backed the struggle for a pay rise.
As things turned out, however, students were caught up in the middle of the dispute, and, at its height, tens of thousands of them risked graduating with unclassified degrees or no degree at all.
Faced with this prospect, many students and their parents got angry, some of them very angry. But where was this anger directed? In general, not at university managements which had refused to negotiate for eight months, but with the lecturers and their unions, the AUT (Association of University Teachers) and Natfhe (National Association of Teachers of Further and Higher Education), which have merged to form the University and College Union.
Calls by the NUS for students to vent their frustration at the employers' association had far less appeal than the "give us our marks" campaigns and demonstrations directed against striking lecturers on a number of campuses.
No fewer than four virtual student societies opposing the strike were formed on the popular website Facebook (similar to MySpace but used largely by college students) at my university, York. Anti-union protesters were invited to join the No More AUT group, or for those who really wanted to let off steam, the AUT are Bastards group.
One social policy student thought our exam boycott was so outrageous, we should be "beheaded". Another published my mobile-phone number and encouraged students who thought they had been "fucked over" by the "lazy bastards" in AUT to give me a call.
Student union leaders at universities with some of the highest ex-public-school concentrations (Bristol, Exeter, Durham, St Andrews) have been at the forefront of the anti-NUS/AUT campaigns, and AUT colleagues have reported higher-than-average levels of animosity there.
The most vocally aggressive opponents of the strike on York's Facebook, I found, tended to come from fee-paying schools, to have Facebook friends at other posh universities and to be members of such campus groups as the Tory Club, the Countryside Alliance, the anti-EU Keep it in Brussels! group, the Boris Johnson Appreciation Society and the Porn Society. Within a few years of graduating most of them will, in all probability, earn more than a mid-career lecturer.
If the point of universities is to build greater civic consciousness, we who teach in them, and the people who run them, have clearly failed.