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 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.