Letter: reason to rebel

November 17, 2000

Why is Hugh Stephenson prepared to submit his arguments for not filling in his research transparency review form to the judgement of THES readers and yet not take them to his own university senate as he has been invited to (Why I..., November 3)?

As the author of the note requesting completion, I think his arguments are wrong. Take his example of the difference in time allocations between a slow reader and a fast one. This would be a problem only if figures for individuals were being returned. But once the figures have been averaged, there is no problem. Of course, if all journalists were more careful and slower readers than (say) historians, that might have its effect at a subject level.

At City University, we have been careful to ensure that names are lost before data are returned centrally, so there are no threats to individuals.

A more interesting reason for academic disobedience is that once the exercise is complete, it may show that universities collectively spend more on research than they receive. Then, the cry will go up that they can do more teaching for no more money. An equally strident cry will accompany the opposite result: taxpayers' research money is being wasted. It is difficult to see how universities can win.

I end with a thought prompted by Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois . To the extent to which government is not for the public good, it is legitimate for me to disobey it, though it is rarely for that reason that I disobey it.

Honesty compels me to say that the thought was brought to my notice by reading one of Tim Parks's novels. You never know when a useful thought is going to come, do you?

Adrian Seville
Academic registrar, City University

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