It’s an odd thing to launch I book, I am discovering. There’s so much that happens under the surface of bringing them to fruition that it’s hard to know how to speak about them once they exist. They are such a temporal creation – a product of one’s former selves – with all their foibles etched onto the page. Do you speak on their behalf? Or try and let them speak for themselves?
Empire of Scholars was sent into the world in London last week (13 Jan 2014 in Senate House, Bloomsbury) and the launch went better than I had hoped. I had spent the morning submitting my British citizenship application and the afternoon dashing about trying to work out launch logistics, and found myself flustered, nervous and a bit overwhelmed when the event began.
It is always one of my fears with these type of things that no-one will show up. But I should not have worried. The room was totally packed out with people standing and sitting on the floor, and I could see folk from all the corners of my life visible around the table and propped against the walls. Peter Mandler (Cambridge) and Elleke Boehmer (Oxford) said very generous and substantive things, as did many members of the audience, and it was odd to hear myself spoken of in the third person.
I had purchased some decent wine and afterwards many people stayed late at the reception, meeting new people, and actually seeming to enjoy themselves. This I took as the best endorsement of all. After all – as the book itself tries to show – the business of scholarship is a communal and a collaborative one: the work of many minds and many unseen hands. And surely the reason that we produce these things in the first place is so that they might serve as part of a conversation with our colleagues, past, present and future.
I am not sure what the best way to send a book out into the world is, but for me at least it feels like some kind of big ritual like this was important.
Thanks to all those who came and if you email me now I’ll send you a 50% launch discount voucher which is valid until the end of January 2014.
This month we read of students and alumni of the University of Oxford protesting the opening of a new Earth Sciences laboratory funded by the oil company Shell. And this is by no means the only instance in which private corporations are supporting academic research.
At the University of Manchester BP is funding a new multi-million pound energy research centre, and in 2003 the research group Corporate Watch published a report on the oil industry and university funding that identified partnerships between oil companies and Cambridge, Aberdeen, Imperial College London, Herriot-Watt and Dundee universities. In 2000 Nottingham University faced a storm of protest over its decision to accept £3.8 million from British American Tobacco, while at Oxford Rupert Murdoch funds a Chair in Language and Communication.
These universities all maintain that accepting this money brings with it no external conditions, and that scholars funded by such endowments retain full academic freedom and independence (see for example Nottingham University’s memorandum of understanding with British American Tobacco).
But it is not coincidental that this growth in the corporate backing of university research comes at a time when the government is making historic cuts to its funding of higher education. To survive the stormy seas of shifting government regulation and global competition, universities are being forced to look for new patrons. Read the rest of this entry »
Universities have long been viewed as institutions that produce knowledge for the common good.
They do this in a variety of ways: by undertaking research that leads to developments in health, culture, science and technology; by teaching skills that equip graduates to serve the community in their work as teachers, doctors, engineers and artists; by fostering citizenship and self-understanding; by sitting at the head of a universal education system; and by serving as apolitical places dedicated to disinterested scholarship and learning.
These are the reasons that, throughout the 20th century, societies have valued universities, funded them, and seen them as public institutions.
At the start of the 21st century, however, universities find themselves in turbulent times. In the UK, regulatory reforms are dramatically reshaping the ways our higher education institutions are funded and how they go about their core tasks.
Read the rest of this entry »