Kudos for tackling the taboo research totem 1

March 4, 2010

I was surprised that John Haldane's lecture on the relative importance of teaching against research received no support in last week's Letters pages ("Teaching is the highest purpose, argues thinker", 18 February). Mary Brown maintains that researchers are Haldane's principal target ("Cats and dogs", Letters, 25 February), but surely he is far more concerned with the displacement effects of research per se?

It is a welcome development that courageous figures such as Haldane are daring to say in public what droves of us have long thought in private: namely, that research, together with its game-playing institutional shenanigans via the research assessment exercise, has surreptitiously become the unquestioned, unchallengeable totem of the New Technocratic Academy. Its uncritical, instrumental positivism and managerialism are so often deleterious to scholarship and independent thinking.

Some academics are now beginning to write critical scholarly papers about the idea of "research" from epistemological and sociological viewpoints - papers not destined for inclusion in the research excellence framework, presumably.

If Haldane's lecture helps to spawn more of this, it will have provided an essential service by helping the academy to counter its rapidly diminishing teaching raison d'etre while contributing to the healthy evolution of ideas.

Richard House, Roehampton University.

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