Monday, 6 June 2016

How to burn an opportunity for universities to shine...

Marking can be time-consuming - but at least a break! And a chance to catch up on emails.

I received a rather distrubing email from one of my former universities. Since it is an open letter, I have no qualms about posting a link to it.

In summary, it is an open letter signed by the Principal and their Students Association President. It makes that case that the university gets a lot of EU funding and that Brexit would make this uncertain, so alums should think about this when voting.

A theme I will be likely to come back to again and again is the idea of the university as a 'neutral space'. Another is the corrupting influence of the state on the ideals of the university.

Now the role of the Students Association is a different matter. But for the University to have signed this off, I think was ill-advised.

First it gives an impression that the only reason that the university cares about the referendum is its funding stream. Wider aspects such as informing the debate in society are demoted.

Second, there is a danger that the Universty will alienate or further distance stakeholders, who may be more firmly in the leave camp.

Third, I cannot see that this letter would not have a 'chilling effect' on a free and open debate. Publically disagreeing with a stated position of the university will inevitably make some people pause for thoughr. Yes, there is a lot of softening language in the letter, but it is taking a position,

The first of the two are reputational. As an alumus I am not happy, but the University's reputation is its own to manage.

The final goes against what I believe universities are there for. What this letter loses sight of is that the university has a wider role in providing a neutral space for debate. The Brexit argument is also not really economic, it is really about issues of national vision and governance. The letter mentions this as an afterthought (in a way that could lead one to suspect that the 'debates' will be aimed to influence an agenda rather than get people thinking through all sides of the argument).

The above said, I would be a bad person to ask for a donation in the near future.

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