It’s always a lovable moment when another group of self-regarding poseurs puts together a group letter to a newspaper to whinge about the government.
There’s been a bit of a vacancy since the spiritual leader of this sort of thing, Harold Pinter, passed on.
However, today’s letter to the Observer is a classic of the genre. signed by a group of “69 academics”, they include luminaries from such institutions as University of Wales, Newport; University of Glamorgan; University of Lincoln; Aston University; Manchester Metropolitan University; Institute of Education; University of Northampton; Sheffield Hallam University; Brunel University; University of Brighton; Buckinghamshire New University; Birmingham City University; University of Teesside; Nottingham Trent University; Keele University; University of Greenwich; Bath Spa University; Leeds Metropolitan University; Middlesex University; University of Reading, and the mighty University of the West of England.
True, there are a few other genuine big hitters in there, but not what you might call their top academics. In fact anyone who has spent time around UK universities in the last twenty years might have discerned a somewhat elastic definition of what actually constitutes “proper” university level education.
Anyway, the 69 wise men and women are objecting to Dave’s Big Society being the subject of funded research, which is surprisingly fastidious of them. I quote their splendid missive in full:
Don’t put democracy at risk
We were appalled that the Arts and Humanities Research Council intends to promote research on “the big society” as part of its current funding settlement (“Academic fury over order to study the big society“, News). That the AHRC has apparently volunteered to do this is all the more craven. When academic research is used to promote party political ideologies its quality and value decline. It also threatens democracy and the constitution. While academic work may be partly paid for out of public funds, this ought not to be the same thing as working for the government. Our concern is independent of the merit of the idea of the big society, and would be the same if at stake were “the third way”, or anything equivalent.
We call upon the AHRC to explain its decision, to distance itself from the promotion of the big society agenda, and to state categorically that it is not seeking to ingratiate itself with current party political priorities. Should it not, we will strongly advise that those supporting the AHRC through their work consider whether they are happy still to do so.”
A lot of these institutions look like they might struggle to fill their places with students willing to cough up £9000 per annum. I hope this possibility has not damaged their objectivity in writing this important letter. Lets take a signatory at random, the eyecatchingly proletarian name of Hugo Gorringe (Edinburgh, not at risk). Over to you Hugo:
“…I have also written on issues pertaining to collective violence, identity politics and the construction and negotiation of social space.
My research in Scotland focuses on the public order policing. Initially Michael Rosie and I looked at the global protests surrounding the G8 meeting in 2005 and the policing of those protests. An interim report on our findings and details of publications can be found here: http://www.sociology.ed.ac.uk/current_research/g8_research
Subsequently we have done research on other protest events and how they are policed.”
I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that Hugo won’t be a fan of Dave, so I worry that his laudable thirst for scientific objectivity may be a little undermined by this.
Just a bit.