Radicalism is part of the warp and weft of the College, part of its DNA. This stems from the College’s humble origins as a Mechanics’ Institute, its location in east London, and its early development as a place where teachers and social workers were trained.
This radicalism is expressed in a cultural way – the College’s lack of formality and pomposity, the easy interchange between students and staff, the casual clothes that people wear, and the avant garde nature of students’ creative work.
It is reflected, too, in the sort of people that have been chosen to head the College – including the radical cultural theorist, Richard Hoggart and the celebrated labour historian, Ben Pimlott – both of whom are honoured by having buildings named after them.
It is also expressed in the political tradition of student activism. In the early 1980s, during the cuts, when staff were being made redundant, students plastered the College with posters proclaiming ‘Richard Hoggart MUST GO’. They also occupied the Whitehead building, then the college’s administrative headquarters. I was sent in by senior management to negotiate with the students in the occupation on the grounds that as editor of New Socialist, the Labour Party’s official journal of ideas, and still relatively young I was the best person to speak to student protesters. After several days students ended the occupation, after having forcibly made the point that they strongly opposed the sacking of staff.
by James Curran
Professor of Communications