11 August 2012

Oxford's professorship in education

In December I applied for a professorship in education offered by Oxford University. The text of the covering letter was reproduced here.

I was not even shortlisted for this post, despite the fact that Oxford seem to have had difficulty filling it, since they advertised the same post again in April.

I reapplied, and again was not even shortlisted.

I reproduce below the text of the letter I sent in response to the turndown.

I think – and my colleagues at Oxford Forum agree – that if Oxford was genuinely interested in making progress on topics coming under the rubric of ‘education’ then the individuals responsible for filling this post should at least wish to meet me to find out what ideas I have for research and what I might do if offered the position.

In fact of course, it is doubtful that such motivation exists in modern academia, at a level capable of having an impact on such decisions. Far more important seems to be that mechanical rules are observed (the candidate should have at least so many publications under their belt, they should have at least x years’ ‘experience’ at other institutions – regardless of whether they have actually contributed anything significant to the advancement of knowledge), and that appearances are satisfied (what will other institutions think; are we doing what is ‘normal’ in the academic profession).

So the system is successfully perpetuated: some kind of activity passing under the name ‘research’ is duly carried on by a large number of people, providing one another with spurious professional endorsement (‘what you are doing may validly be regarded as educational research, because everyone else “working” in the field would say so too’).

However, understanding of the underlying issues is not meaningfully advanced.

Dear ...

Thank you for your letter of 16 May. It appears I was not even shortlisted for the Professorship of Education being offered by the Department of Sociology in association with Green Templeton College, for which I made an application in April 2012.

It is an indication of the oppressiveness of modern society that nobody considers it their business to enquire into the predicament of the victims of social outrage and support them in recovering from it.

And yet, not long ago, a teenager with an IQ said to be 130, currently in prison, was awarded damages against an education authority which had failed to provide him with enough intellectual stimulation. This was regarded as having led to his turning to crime instead of to gainful employment. I realise this provides no grounds for my entertaining any hope that I could sue for loss of my earnings from an academic career as well as my father’s loss of salary as a headmaster when he was forced to retire early on a breakdown allowance.

Normally in this situation I would ask you if you would let me come to see you to explain my position, to make it more likely that you will remember me if a suitable appointment arises. However, I realise that it would be unlikely to do me any good if you did grant me an interview with you. Nevertheless, I think that you should wish to come to see me to find out what help you could give me in returning to a normal position in society.

One form of help which you could certainly give me, even without coming to see me, would be money. Without a salary, and having to provide myself with an institutional environment as best I can, it is almost impossible for me to write books expressing my views, to publish those which have already been written and stockpiled, or to carry out any of the research which I have now been prevented from doing for several decades, and which I need to do to enhance my claim on restoration to the sort of career which I should have been having all along.

In your position, I would probably be happy to contribute half of my salary on a regular basis if I heard of someone in so grievously anomalous a situation as mine.

This is a standing invitation to you or any senior academic to come to visit me at my impoverished independent university, to discuss ways of supporting me, morally or financially, so that I do not continue to be prevented from contributing to the intellectual life of my time, as a headmistress (who perhaps lost her job for the crime of allowing me to be too happy at her school) once said that I was certain to do.

However, I am not inviting you or anyone else to come without warning, and an appointment would have to be made well in advance, and accompanied by a donation of at least £5000 towards the support of my institution, or to me personally. In fact, it would be better if made to me personally, as our affairs are too constricted and under-staffed to accept any additional burden in the way of processing and accounting for donations.

I do not expect you to come, although I think you should, but a donation of that size would at least prevent a visit, if it were to happen, from being an entirely fruitless drain on our time and emotional energy.

Yours sincerely,