Revolution and reaction 1

June 11, 2009

Goethe is a tricky one on whom to build a case for reform ("Goethe's the guy v-c goes to for advice on reform", 4 June). Over a long life he moved from the revolutionary position of his "Sturm und Drang" period and Faust part 1 to become the ultra-conservative "Herr Geheimrat" of Faust part 2. That a vice-chancellor wants to model himself on the reactionary Goethe is hardly surprising: however, you misled readers by providing an illustration of the young, revolutionary Goethe.

The true revolutionary was Alexander von Humboldt, as evidenced by his memorandum of 1810 on the University of Berlin, but even that was confined to research. He remained conservative - although less so than most English academics today - in his approach to teaching and learning. Today's true revolutionaries in the latter spheres are to be found in the Staff and Educational Development Association.

Lewis Elton, Honorary professor of higher education University College London.

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