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Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

It’s the first day of the new term! Interesting to see how far the countryside along the line from Castle Cary to Exeter has changed in just a month, especially with all the warm weather we’ve had in recent weeks. An excuse to drop into The Exploding Bakery next to Exeter Central station, as it’s over a month since I last indulged in one of their cakes. Lovely to meet up with colleagues again. Above all, however, it’s the culmination of my final-year Thucydides module, the student conference on Thucydides’ Contemporary Relevance, in which they all offer their different perspectives on the text that they’ve been slogging through all year, culminating in a guest lecture and general debate. Well, that was the plan… (more…)

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So, ‘cancel culture’ has been monetised: just pay Toby Young’s new Free Speech Union a load of money, and then tweet about eugenics, the glories of the British Empire and the size of women’s breasts to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that you will not have to stand alone in the face of a howling Twitter mob demanding to know whether this is entirely appropriate.

I’m not totally convinced by some aspects of the business model here – surely the sort of person who knows in advance they’re going to be wilfully offensive, so would pay for the assurance that Spiked! will write an outraged column about people objecting to this, will already be part of this crowd? And are they actually going to ignore a good controversy and opportunity to denounce excessively woke students, just because the target hasn’t coughed up their protection money?

But it also raises the question of whether there are any further business opportunities in this area… Academics! Are you worried that your research is too obscure, nuanced or sensible to attract the sort of attention and media gigs you nevertheless feel you deserve? But you’re still unwilling to strip out the ambiguity and pull out a dog whistle? We’re here to solve your problem: for a very reasonable fee we will weaponise your findings and make them the new front in the culture wars. You retain deniability and the possibility of claiming to have been misinterpreted, if you decide not to commit fully to our truth-telling mission – and if you do, Toby Young has an offer you may not be wise to refuse…

Addendum: did briefly think about also offering the opportunity to be convincingly denounced to the Turning Point UK Inquisition, but unaccountably people seem to be taking them even less seriously than the Free Speech Avengers.

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Them Too?

So you like to party with the students. Ain’t that kinda skanky?

Now, I’m not saying that watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be a compulsory training element for all new university teachers – but it would certainly have been better than the training I received when I started, namely none at all. This isn’t about the series’ depiction of teaching styles (copious material there, especially with regard to different Watcher philosophies) but the handling of student-teacher relationships and the negotiation of appropriate boundaries. Basic Buffy message: ick. Or worse.

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No Failure, No Try

“Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.” Yoda’s philosophy really is rubbish; terrible pedagogy (as discussed here, the Sith are much better teachers) and terrible advice in general. Manifestly, his power is not infinite (there’s a great calculation of Yoda’s energy output by Randall Munroe of xkcd), so – for all his “that is why you fail” smugness – it’s clear that his approach amounts to attempting only things he already knows are within his capacity, and avoiding anything else. It’s the Force equivalent of research funding applications that define all their intended outcomes in advance, confining them to things that are definitely doable (if not already done and ready to be reported) – which is to say, the majority of research funding applications. Yes, research funding bodies are probably all run by Jedi: tradition-bound, results- rather than process-orientated, and smugly opaque and mysterious. (more…)

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This Is What We Do

Even before Friday morning, I was feeling despondent; partly premonitions of doom (local political doom, apocalyptical climate and environmental doom), partly the after-effects of a heavy teaching load this term and of a year in which I seem to have been ill and/or insomniac quite a lot of the time, hence massively behind with research and writing commitments. And now? We’re definitely leaving the EU, and still at risk of a disastrous version of that departure; the culture war will continue and probably accelerate, with Johnson’s ‘bring the country back together’ a form of ‘you lost, time to get with the programme’ coercion rather than a genuine concern about engaging with other views; nothing will be done about climate change, or poverty. (more…)

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Subject Heading: Why you are not getting that article/chapter any time soon

(1) It’s been a horribly busy term and I simply haven’t had any time to focus on research or writing. I have a couple of commitments in June and early July, plus taking a short holiday (at last!), but I’ll then be able to get down to this properly. (more…)

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It’s been one of those years… As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve managed to keep up a reasonably steady routine of posts – it does help that the WiFi on South Western trains is pretty reliable, so I can get things written on the commute down to Exeter – and the viewing figures have been pretty steady (no weird public controversies, and I managed to resist the temptation to launch unprovoked attacks on any prominent media figures during the slow weeks). I have at various points wondered whether it’s worth it; on the one hand, this remains a great opportunity to write about things that would never make for a proper academic article (or which perhaps might count as groundwork for something more substantial in due course – I am committed to giving a paper about Thucydides on Twitter in February), but on the other hand it is a time commitment, and in a year when it feels like I’ve lacked both time and energy even for the regular work stuff, sometimes it’s felt like that ‘one more bloody thing’ which could turn out to be that one thing too much. (more…)

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It is perfectly possible that I spend too much time on the Internet, and on social media. But there is so much amazing stuff out there – insightful, informative, passionate, provocative, brilliantly written stuff, produced not for profit but for the sake of the ideas and the wish to communicate with others – and if it wasn’t for the Twitter I wouldn’t know a thing about most of it. My ‘best of’ list seems to get longer every year, perhaps because I’ve got into the habit of making notes as soon as I’ve read something, rather than relying on my ever more erratic memory to recall things from earlier in the year – and this is as much about reminding myself and revisiting things as it as about recommending that you should read them too… (more…)

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It’s interesting – I can’t work out whether it should also be sobering – to reflect that my main ‘legacy’ to academia, broadly defined, may have nothing at all to do with any of my miscellaneous scribblings about Thucydides, the ancient economy, historiography, the influence of classical antiquity on the development of 19th-century social theory or counterfactuals. It won’t even be directly related to my teaching, but rather to my past identity – somewhat out of step with my usual academic persona – as ruthless academic bureaucrat, determined to bring order and consistency to the organisation of teaching and learning at department, faculty and university level. As a legacy of my time as Faculty Education Director in Bristol, and more specifically being named on the website in such a role, I still occasionally get invited to apply for positions as Pro-Vice-Dean for Educational Enterprise, and even occasionally wonder about that alternative career path. A certain preference for tidyness leads to guideline writing, guideline writing leads to subject review processes, subject review processes lead to the dark side… (more…)

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There’s been a lot of discussion on the Twitter this week about an advertised vacancy for a fixed-term teaching position that expects the successful candidate to devise an MA module related to their own research. I’m going to out myself as an Old Person, and possibly bring a shower of condemnation on my head, by confessing that my feelings about this are more mixed than the prevalent judgement that this is obviously and unacceptably exploitative. In my day, when I was applying for such positions, I was far more attracted to positions that offered such freedom rather than defining the job in terms of which pre-existing courses should be taught – and, yes, it’s entirely revealing that I think of this in terms of ‘freedom’. (more…)

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