19 October 2015

On being well out of it

Apologies for delayed posting.

As the new academic year starts, I am at last in the position of having no formal academic obligations. No teaching. No funded projects ("research" as such was never a major feature of my role—thank goodness). No external examining.

So I am now a recovering academic.

Academic life has always (at least, in the UK, in the later 20th century onwards.... [Ouch! It's struck again! I just can't bring myself to make the unqualified generalisations which everyone else bandies {sp.? I've never written that word before...} about)] claimed to be the last bastion of free speech and the disinterested (no—that is not the same as "uninterested"—although I generally go along with Oliver Kamm and Jean Aitchison et al.  in maintaining that language is as language does...) pursuit of truth.

Academe has long fallen short of those high ideals. They were probably always a fantasy, or at best an aspiration. And since the advent of "political correctness" and more recently "trigger warnings" and "micro-aggressions" (at present a N. American issue—but a diluted version will probably pop up here soon) speech is more constrained in academe than in any other sector of society. [Note: this paragraph contains no references...]

It isn't just a matter of free speech. The following egregious corporate-speak appeared in a job advertisement on behalf of the Times Higher Education's "University of the Year" a few weeks ago. The job is "Head of Directorate Office" which sounds grand until you see the salary, "up to £36,309". It's not clear what the post entails, but apparently:
'Supporting the senior team with high quality policy intelligence through research and data analysis, you will generate reports and briefings on strategic issues and manage a range of exciting projects.
[...] Emotionally intelligent, positive and solution-focused, you will have excellent interpersonal, communication and influencing skills. You will also be well-organised with a flexible, enthusiastic attitude, and a positive [...] customer-focused approach.
That is the kind of vacuous HR rhetoric you expect of an advert for a sales position in a second-rate competitor to Sunshine Desserts, rather than an academic institution. (OK, it's not an academic post, but even so you would expect the university to aim for a discourse in keeping with its academic aspirations.)

Sometimes even Laurie Taylor is understated...

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