Scottish Independence

There are things that people say because they believe them and things they say – and may believe – because you have to say them to prosper. For most of history you had to say you believed in God and opposed homosexuality; no longer true, apparently, and a good thing too. But if you live […]

On Loathing Labour

There’s a family legend that I was present when Aneurin (“Nye”) Bevan called the Tories “vermin”. I was three years old, on my father’s shoulders, and allegedly roared with anger. This incident was supposed to have taken place at the “Big Meeting” (aka the Durham Miners’ Gala) in 1950. Unfortunately, as so often with family […]

Grade Inflation

I was super cool about my degree result: I was away when it was announced and made no efforts to find out what had happened until about a week later when I had a party to attend in Oxford. This was partly adolescent bravado, but it was also a firm belief that intellectual life was […]

Professionals and Eccentrics

When you deliver a lecture course you want people to turn up and listen, particularly the people who are supposed to turn up. And at the end when your performance is evaluated you want them to say nice things, stressing that you delivered on aims and met the needs of those to whom you would […]

A Lament for Academic Life

When he was in his early twenties one of my sons said something to me that must count among the stranger things that sons ever say to fathers. Asked what he wanted to do with his life he replied, “I want to be exactly like you, Dad”, putting some vehemence into the adverb. And why […]

Pareto & Co.

On an edition of University Challenge in 2013 there was a question on elite theory. I was pleased and relieved that the student competitors had heard of Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels, even if they mixed them up a bit. All of this intellectual triumvirate were born in the mid-nineteenth century and they […]

Universities: a Return to the Dark Side?

A few years ago I was involved in a silly controversy about Shakespeare. I was asked to review a book which claimed that the plays attributed to him could not have been written by him, but were actually written by Sir Henry Neville. An explicit premise of the argument was that the author of the […]

In Praise of Showing Off

By 1989 I had been teaching in universities for half a lifetime, twenty one years, arguably my entire time as an adult. I had no training in the job and I had never been faced with any formal assessment of my performance. Then, like the London buses of legend, forms of measurement of one’s performance […]

On the Expansion of the Universities

Grade inflation is a universal human tendency. There are badges of esteem, which relate in complex ways to feelings of self-esteem, and the desire to acquire these is always present as is the pressure to make them available. Thus, for example, in societies in which there is a defined aristocracy the proportion of the population […]

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