The Genome Campus library subscribes to several publications that I have to force myself only to skim read. If I don’t there’s a good chance I’ll throw them across its outer reading room and stamp on them and Joan the Head Librarian will have to report me to Security again.
One, obviously, is The Independent, whose fall from its promising start in the 80s has run neatly alongside my own erratically descending path in scientific research. Another is The Times Higher Educational Supplement. Every week you are guaranteed at least one article from some no-mark at the University of Provincial Complacency griping gracelessly about a terrible new burden imposed on him by the government. The bastards will have affronted him by suggesting that he show minimal competence in teaching or publish something original or perhaps fill out a form once a year.
There’ll also usually be a slightly better written, but no less other-worldly, contribution from an ancient university git. (Apply the “ancient” as you will.) This will warn that Oxbridge is sinking into the mire because the government doesn’t understand the old universities’ unique greatness—greatness which inevitably requires subsidy above that doled out to other educational institutions not charged with populating the Houses of Parliament. In the traditional Oxford media don style it will be a doily of unsupported assertions—usually the sort of superficially plausible nonsense that the author would cut up if one of his students stitched it into an essay.
I mention the THES because I want to bitchslap Tom Devine, pictured smiling at us from its back cover last week. This photograph of his face illustrates a report about Aberdeen University’s Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies winning a grant for 1.25m quid. We might say that it had “won the grant”; the press release prefers “successfully secured the financial award”. As the centre’s director, Prof Devine is perched somewhere between the two extremes of the UK academic landscape I referred to. For all I know, he might be a damned fine scholar in Irish or Scottish studies, but he doesn’t seem to be keen on English studies:
“The unprecedented levels of new funding will have a transformative effect on the centre’s research activities and postgraduate training.”
Oi, Tom, what’s wrong with:
“This is the largest award the AHRB has ever made. It will transform our research and graduate teaching.”
? He goes on to misapply a couple of adverbs, confuse the subject of a sentence, and abuse a relative pronoun so completely I’m not even sure that it’s functioning as one:
“Equally, however, the AHRB decision, taken only after thorough consultation with distinguished international assessors, demonstrates that the Humanities in the Scottish universities, like colleagues in science and medicine, can achieve world-class research status which brings great honour and prestige to our country.”
Spend some of your new dosh on a secretary, mate. (S)he’ll fix your prose before it escapes to injure innocent readers. I wouldn’t mind so much, but I have quoted the whole extent of Devine’s contribution to the university’s press release. How long did it take him to write these two horrible sentences? Sorry, three. I omitted this gem:
“This is stunning news not simply for Aberdeen and its partners but for Arts and Humanities in Scotland in general.”
PooterGeekers paying the professor’s salary can take some comfort that this post will be in the top ten Google hits for “Tom Devine” within a week. Will he find it? Will he be able to construct a comprehensible or grammatically correct reply in the comments? I can only bid him here with that timeless English battle-cry: “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”
“Every week you are guaranteed at least one article from some no-mark at the University of Provincial Complacency griping gracelessly about a terrible new burden imposed on him by the government. The bastards will have affronted him by suggesting that he show minimal competence in teaching or publish something original or perhaps fill out a form once a year.”
Very funny Damian. The fact remains that bureaucratisation is destroying higher education. Anyone who contests this claim is simply ill-informed. Once a year? It’s more like once an hour.
Okay, I exaggerated. (You want to try working for the Medical Research Council: it combines the form-filling of academia with the form-filling of the civil service.) I once completed a form claiming my payment from a university for external lecturing and examining and then received, almost by return of post, another one asking me to be an external assessor of the course I had just taught and tested. Admittedly I was excused the last one when I pointed out that there might be a slight conflict of interest.
In fact everyone these days has to fill in forms at work. It’s the “Why should cultured thinkers like us bother ourselves with justifying our existences to the people who pay our wages? / Brain the size of a planet and all you ask me to do is tick boxes!” tone of these things that incenses me.
Bureaucratisation is not destroying higher education. Scholars who can’t think or write clearly, lecturers who can’t lecture, students who don’t want to study, and an all-round, middle-class entitlement culture are its biggest threats.
The only part of your last paragraph I dissent from is its first sentence. Bureaucratisation isn’t the *only* thing that’s destroying higher education. But it’s certainly doing its bit.
On this, PG, you are definitely 100% wrong. The bureaucratisation, which has increased x-fold in the last ten years, is not there to make a better teacher or human being of you – it utterly distrusts anything that is human or indeed teacherly or researchely – it is primarily there to protect the institution you work for from predatory lawyers. It is also there because a growing number of people – usually called managers – not only make their living by it, but because those who enter the system are fed it from day one, so they feel the world will collapse without it.
I can also tell you that whatever lovely things your students, your externals, your line-managers (damn, they have me using their language now) say about you, however excellent the results of your students, and however stellar the achievements of you alumni, the system is determined to file documents that are intended to show you are barely honest enough to trust with a sheet of photocopying paper. I do not joke on this subject.
I wish I liked them better. I wish I liked any of it.
Do I sound bitter, PG? I feel I am slowly working my way up to being twisted.
Hear hear, Mr Szirtes.