My other vague country of origin, the UK, is currently witnessing – and I mean that in the full martyrdom sense – the latest of many incarnations of lunatic intervention in academia: the REF. As those of us working in academia well know, letting the lunatics run the asylum might not be such a bad idea, given the alternative of those so-called professional administrator types. A certain country of my recent residence, stand up and take a bow at this point. But those in the UK are interventions by those most celebrated of professional gentlemen amateurs the legislative and executive wings a.k.a. Politicians and Government.
Now, freedoms and suchlike are one thing. My liberty to think about whatever I want is quite happy here on Meta-meta-medieval, and – so far, touch wood – I’m in a university and a department which haven’t tried anything mad in the way of controlling me, my output, and what I think and write about and say. Mind you, I’ve hardly been waving fire-brands around (plus it’s raining, so that would just be silly). Nor have I seen any of the following recently – though there are rumours of a film in progress, and such things do progress in the Vancouver area, so I wouldn’t be surprised were I to see one, one of these days:
But academics in the UK are in an unhappy situation. This isn’t new. Idiocy targeted at academics seems to be as old as academics – as old as universities, if not The Academy – although, then again, there was that court case involving Socrates. And of course human idiocy is as old as our oldest records thereof. Fortune’s wheel continues to turn. Handing over now to a colleague on FRANCOFIL:
[commenting on] David Mitchell, “Pointless Studies are the Key to Evolution: The demise of the silly survey strikes at the heart of being civilised“, Comment is Free in the Observer, 27 September 2009:
I know no one in the sector who doesn’t think that the proposed criteria are ludicrous and an embarassment to common sense. Whilst it is useful for us to share our thoughts with each other on this issue what we really need to do is to make sure that those outside our walls hear our reasoning. We need to mobilise on this. Some obvious people who need to be contacted by colleagues are: Peter Mandelson, David Willetts (who will undoubtedly replace him as ‘Skills’ minister next year), the Times Higher Education, the REF/HEFCE themselves and any colleagues who are known to have influence on those panels. If you think the impact proposal is absurd, make your voice heard.
As ever, Mr. Mitchell is marvellous, witty, and – above all, and most important in this context – SANE. (Come the Archimimocratic Revolution, he would clearly be joining Jeremy Hardy in government.) In the meantime (while we await said Revolution), writing to the above-mentioned individuals is encouraged.
FRANCOFILiators also draws one’s attention to:
“Impact on humanities: Researchers must take a stand now or be judged and rewarded as salesmen”
(TLS, 13 November 2009)
And, on a note of hope (albeit given lunatics at said UK helm – hoping Big People will look at what other Big People in other Big Places are doing and saying):
In Australia and NZ the description is as follows:
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) classification
The ANZSRC SEO classification allows R&D activity in Australia and New Zealand to be categorised according to the intended purpose or outcome of the research rather than the processes or techniques used in order to achieve this objective. The purpose categories include processes, products, health, education and other social and environmental aspects in Australia and New Zealand that R&D activity aims to improve.
A purpose classification such as the SEO provides a set of categories which collectively exhaust all the objectives of research.
Interestingly and somewhat reassuringly (I think?), it continues:
In this respect, the scope of the SEO is more extensive than a classification of economic activities such as the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), because not all R&D has an economic motive or context.
I invite you though to look at the categories outlined here and to try and pick a 4-digit subcategory to classify your own research.
With regard to progress on the updating of Australia’s research framework equivalent, ERA, Excellence for Research in Australia, the notion of impact was dropped because of many of the concerns raised in the TLS article, and has been replaced by ‘Esteem indicators’ which ‘constitute measures of prestige and recognition by experts within the discipline’. Again, they are mostly required to be assessed by some easily quantifiable measure, such as service on the editorial board of an A* or A-ranked journal for instance, membership of learned academy, recipient of nationally-competitive grant or fellowship, etc. Whilst doubtless still imperfect it is undoubtedly better than what looks to be on the horizon in the UK. Perhaps bodies with lobbying power should be pointing out that Australia has pulled back from impact factors, because in recent times it has often seemed that the administrative procedures of our HE system has served as inspiration for UK bureaucrats.
And now, for something completely different.
Or maybe not.
Either way: some Medieval treats for the day. Here’s something that would never have been invented without curiosity:
A later application – doubtless due to further exercise of curiosity, that good old human curiosity; here, with the bonus of scientific implications and resulting medical and physical data useful for future research, further applications, and so on – precisely the sort of thing the sorts of people who invent, believe in, and implement such things as the REF (and RAE) would like to see more of. Practical applications. Profitable new uses. Cooperation with industry. Public-private partnerships.
In short: that Holy Grail of university administrators, Innovation:
With some room for interpretation, next, on curiosity killing the cat. In the shape of portents for our present Society of the Spectacle –
– and its valuing of certain kinds of public entertainment and concomittant “celebrity culture” – not to mention a public enjoyment of the ridicule and humiliation of One’s Betters brought low. Academics and the Life Intellectual are routinely and regularly devalued in the current (“knowledge”) economy – be that through the action of The Turning of the Wheel, or by an Invisible Hand. This is entirely normal. But there is hope for change. The image above depicts a frequently ill-interpreted prophetic dream vision; it is only recently that a small and select group of Medievalists have realised its true meaning, its interpretation only made possible through identification of the events and characters depicted, as observation of our current world has permitted the realisation that the prophesy refers to current times. Hence, obv., also why previous interpretations are false, and why the true interpretation is only possible now. For this is a nightmare vision of celebutantes, glitterati, and other illustrious persons in their most dazzling finery – yes, that was already a nightmare vision – queueing up to participate in a game show, merrily but meekly, as lambs to the slaughter, to come to a Just End.
There is yet further hope for us Others. The Merry But Meek are being watched by The Ones Who Got Away. For just out of sight is the illuminator. And other hands in the text – beyond the Fourth Wall, or hiding in an extra dimension within furled leaves in the ornamentation. Come the End of the World, the cockroaches and rats will survive. So will academics – used to unorthodox hours and eating patterns, to survival of the fittest – a survival based on every imaginable criterion bar the reasonable and rational. As for Suits and ‘Slebs …