Autism and injustice – Stephen Neary

Stephen Neary is a twenty-year old man with autism. Up until December last year, he lived with, and was cared for by, his father Mark Neary. When his father contracted flu, he asked for Stephen to be admitted to a respite centre for three days, as he was too unwell to care for his son properly. Like many people with autism, Stephen finds it difficult to communicate with people, which he finds frustrating. He was upset at having been parted from his father, who he knew was ill. Although Stephen had been to the respite centre in the past, they felt unable to cope with his behaviour, and referred him to a Positive Behaviour Unit. Stephen’s method of gaining someone’s attention – a method he’s used all his life – involves tapping someone on the shoulder. However, this action was allegedly logged as an assault by the staff at the Positive Behaviour Unit, and since he did this many times whilst there, he was deemed too dangerous to return to his father. Moreover, his diagnosis has been changed from “autism, severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour”, to “extreme challenging behaviour, learning difficulties and possible autistic spectrum disorder”. Importantly, this means that the local authority, who – in accordance with their legal obligations – have paid for the carers who normally help his father look after Stephen, will no longer be liable to pay for his care. Instead, it will be the NHS Primary Care Trust who must foot the bill, and they want to send him to a care home in Wales, to further investigate his challenging behaviour (his home is in London). You can read more about Stephen’s case here. There is a facebook group set up by his father here. If you want to sign the petition, it’s here.

‘The Oxbridge Whitewash’

David Lammy entered a Freedom of Information request to get Oxford and Cambridge to reveal information about applications and admissions.

The results (reported here) are appaling: Oxford admitted one black Caribbean student last year. 21 (out of 44) Oxford colleges made no offers to black students last year.

Lammy suggests the problem is not simply a matter of black and ethnic minority students not applying. Rather, white students were more likely to be successful than black students at most colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. This seems to be particularly so for black women:

The starkest divide in Cambridge was at Newnham, an all-women’s college, where black applicants had a 13% success rate compared with 67% for white students.

A spokesperson suggests that the low acceptance rates may be explained by the fact that black students tend to apply for the most over-subscribed subjects.

Class representation is also poor, as the data gathered show:

that Oxford’s social profile is 89% upper- and middle-class, while 87.6% of the Cambridge student body is drawn from the top three socioeconomic groups. The average for British universities is 64.5%, according to the admissions body Ucas.

From what we know about solo status and stereotype threat, there’s reason to suppose that such low numbers may affect the experience of working class and black and ethnic minority students at these universities. And there’s clear anecdotal evidence of under-representation putting off prospective applicants:

Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of. …

“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”

And this is all in face of a fees hike…
It is worth noting that, as far as I know, both Cambridge and Oxford operate a ‘Special Access Scheme’, aimed at recruiting excellent students from schools which do not have excellent grade averages. One might wonder how effective such schemes are, in light of these figures.


21 JANUARY 2011

The Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group would like to invite
interested parties of all genders to a workshop organised to explore
some of the philosophical issues surrounding the under-representation
of women in professional philosophy.  The date is Friday 21st January
2011, in the Conference Room, David Hume Tower, George Square,


We have the following provisional program:

12.30pm: Welcome coffee

1pm – 2pm: ‘Particularity, Epistemic Responsibility, and the
Ecological Imaginary’
Lorraine Code, University of York

2pm – 3pm:‘False Consciousness and the Modern Woman’
Elinor Mason, Edinburgh University

3pm – 3.30pm: Coffee break

3.30pm – 4.30pm: ‘Unconscious Influences and Women in Philosophy’
Jennifer Saul, Sheffield University

4.30pm – 5.30pm: ‘Should sexual harassment law be used to address the
operation of implicit bias in the workplace?’
Jules Holroyd, Cardiff University

5.30pm – 6.30pm: Coffee and further discussion

Deadline for registration for the workshop and for dinner is 10th January 2011.

Workshop website is here.