Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Whither Universities?

Freshers' Week is bedlam: constant rounds of meetings and greetings. After that, the weight of teaching and the way it's distributed across the week, plus the administration, marketing and so on means it's hard to find time for sustained research without being utterly ruthless.

It's not a new problem:
…the mind of a person in the constant exercise of the retail trade has many claims upon his attentions, whereas the man of letters sits down in his study to meditate and revise his thoughts without the train of them being interrupted by the casual intrusion. 
(Charles Heath, Excursion, 1799).  

I worry that the university, not just its staff, is becoming a 'man of retail' rather than a 'man of letters': that the pressure to be cool and modern and entrepreneurial means that our energies are diverted into making the place superficially attractive: dubious post-graduaiton employment stats are de rigueur, shiny coffee bars replace libraries and PR takes the place of substantial activity.

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