Leading questions

December 8, 2011

If Times Higher Education were an academic journal, it would have been particularly pleasing to have been its guest editor last week. There are so many clear conceptual links between the articles that any scholarly editor would have had an easy task.

It features several worthy critiques of the business model of higher education, from Jack Grove on neoliberal business-speak ("Our bottom line is not the bottom line") to James Vernon on the death of state-funded higher education ("Canary in the coal mine"). There is also a trenchant book review by Alan Ryan on the proliferation of status-seeking administrators in the academy ("A dean is nothing without a deanlet"). When one adds to that the television review by Gary Day ("In cold blood"), which discusses the role that arts education could have in preventing the break-up of civil society, one is presented with an accurate, if dreary, picture of the academy at what appears to be the end times of market capitalism.

However, there is surely also a vital link between these articles and the feature on the value of university chancellors ("Face value"). If such individuals are going to "promote the importance of higher education" in a period that has been compared culturally with the Dark Ages, rather than remain as powerless figureheads, where will we find them?

Ryan's review of Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters suggests that higher education is run by those who want to manage, rather than those who are intellectually and morally competent to do so. His last point is surely most relevant: if higher education is to survive with any ability to change society for the better, genuine academics, rather than career administrators or minor celebrities, need to accept again the task of leading it.

Mary Brown, Banchory, Scotland

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