Sir Adrian Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of London, chastises colleagues in the Council for the Defence of British Universities who take “a rather naive view that beauty, truth and goodness is so self-evident that people will queue up to give you money” (“If we care, what shall we do about it?”, Research, 31 January). This is part of his defence of the “impact agenda” - an agenda that requires that researchers state not only the results of their work but also its utility even before it is done. In short, impact requires us to take the naive view that Smith rightly criticises.
My CDBU colleagues are much more likely to argue that the point of undertaking research in the first place is precisely because we do not know what constitutes the good, the true, the beautiful: that is what the research is trying to find. Further, these truths are ever changing; and that is why we must continue not only to research, but also to remain sceptical about the fictions of predicted “impact”.
Smith thinks that we in the CDBU are “aloof”. Well, here is an open invitation: let us meet in a public forum, before an audience of academics, government officials and colleagues from business, to debate impact and any of the CDBU’s stated aims (available on our website) at Smith’s discretion. Will he accept?
Professor of English and comparative literature
University of Warwick