Stefan ColliniI’m starting on my catch-up after a week of going to public lectures.  The first was an address by Stefan Collini.

Was there ever a time when universities were an alternative to business, dedicated to pure learning and art, apart from the Albertian Order of Saint Leibowitz?  Universities have always served the practical preparation of  students for a working life.

Market economies have become market societies.  Market societies demand that public services, like universities, are accountable.  How satisfied are you with your experience of the University: Satisfied?  Very satisfied?  Not satisfied? B -.

In a society that is results-driven you are more likely to be satisfied with a cure for cancer than a thesis on tonality in sixteenth century poetry.

We attempt to measure quality and if a twelve year old thinks the museum captions are ‘ace’ that counts as a pass-mark.

The top universities are rank 1 to 100.  The reputations of those at the top are assured.  What happens to the rest.  They fumble around according to their yearly reputation, an status that only exists in relation to the other universities on the list.  Some rise as others are de-valued.  Those at the top become reserves of social class.

A strong department maintains a good academic reputation.  Good administration cannot compel academic research.  Accountability produces a show of accountability, a verisimilitude.  Academic staff are distinctive of a university, a place to cultivate collegiality, form character, make citizens.  We are dependent on academic discipline to attract students.

So there is reason to be optimistic.  It is always going to the dogs.  It’s not inevitable.  Universities remain custodians of a narrative.