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!”