Miley and May: an alternative honours list

Times Higher Education columnists suggest some thought-provoking options for new year commendations

January 2, 2014

Another new year brings another clutch of gongs for higher education’s great and good. But are the right people securing titles in the New Year Honours?

This year, we asked Times Higher Education columnists to nominate worthy individuals for an alternative THE Honours. The results range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Stefan Collini
Nominated by Laurie Taylor, sociologist, broadcaster and Poppletonian columnist

Were you one of the many academics who felt strangely depressed by your involvement in the research excellence framework? Stefan Collini perfectly captured the nature of that dissatisfaction in a single sentence: “It is the alienation from oneself that is experienced by those who are forced to describe their activities in misleading terms.”

But Collini has broader targets than the REF. In recent years, the professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge has brought the critical literary talents that he honed in his classical studies of British intellectual life to bear on the crass marketisation of a system of public higher education that was once the envy of the world. While so many others equivocate and compromise, Collini, with wit and verve, insists on reminding us of what we are losing as we forget our history, as we forget what universities are for. Arise, Sir Stefan.

Theresa May
Nominated by Christopher Bigsby, director of the Arthur Miller Centre and professor of American studies at the University of East Anglia

I nominate the home secretary, Theresa May, for contributions to persistence beyond reason. Who else would preside over a department of state that still regards students as immigrants; requires British citizens wishing to bring their spouses into the country to be earning at least £18,600 a year (more if they have children); spends only £133 million over five years on deportation flights, at £5,000 a head (a snip at 10 times the price of a London/New York economy ticket); spends a mere £180,000 on trying to deport Isa Muazu, 90 days into a hunger strike; sends Tamils back to an ever-welcoming Sri Lanka; tries to deport the Australian who disrupted a boat race involving May’s old university; establishes the ever-popular Police and Crime Commissioners; proposes withdrawing from the Human Rights Act; and spends almost £500,000 on “unusable” rubber bullets? No wonder she is 40 places above Dawn French in the Woman’s Hour Power List, and only one behind the Queen. And she didn’t even go to Eton.

Miley Cyrus
Nominated by Sally Feldman, senior fellow in creative industries at the University of Westminster

I’m nominating the singer Miley Cyrus for her energetic contribution to the debate about women’s body image. With more than 400 million views of her YouTube video for the song Wrecking Ball, she has raised awareness on an unprecedented scale. Cyrus, who until recently was best known as the star of the Disney Channel’s pre-teen television programme Hannah Montana, has grown up with a vengeance. Now 21, she’s famed for her uninhibited sexual antics or “twerking”. These include a naked lap dance on a concrete ball and chain; performing fellatio with a sledgehammer; simulating sex with a giant foam finger; and grinding her bottom against co-singer Robin Thicke’s crotch. Some call it girl power. Most condemn her brazen strutting as deplorable, degrading filth. But at least she’s got our feminist mojos working, reminding us what it is we really, really hate. So I’d like to award her a great big juicy, golden twerky.

Jane Glanville
Nominated by Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University

Mission groups, ministers and manifestos come and go, but Jane Glanville has led London Higher since 2002. Now with more than 50 members and affiliates, the group representing the capital’s universities and colleges has never been stronger. Despite the occasional jousting, eye-gouging and self-immolation of her much-honoured flock of vice-chancellors, Glanville is keeper of the universal faith: “London is our campus”. Soft diplomacy, behind-scenes collaboration and subtle advocacy are her deadly stock-in-trade, outwitting the shrill sirens of doom, the slick masters of spin and the self-appointed lords of the universe. So I nominate her for Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath, for services to higher education in London, above and beyond the call of duty.

Edward Higginbottom
Nominated by Alan Ryan, who is emeritus professor of political theory, University of Oxford, and teaches at Princeton University

Edward Higginbottom has been director of music at New College, Oxford, since 1976. He is due to retire next year. A knighthood would be an appropriate retirement gift and recognition of his extraordinary achievements as a choirmaster and scholar. In the 37 years of his tenure, he has extended the range of an already distinguished college chapel choir and brought into circulation much lost or neglected early choral and keyboard music. From the austerities of Renaissance liturgical settings to the music of John Tavener and Arvo Pärt and compilations of English folk songs, a nowadays world-class and widely travelled choir of men’s and boys’ voices performs an extraordinary variety of music. Higginbottom’s reach is not confined to the UK. Building on his graduate work in Paris in the early 1970s, he has not only contributed to French organ music but has also brought about something of a renaissance of French male-voice choral music. The French Ministry of Culture has appointed him Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. It would be an appropriate gesture if the British, in their turn, could see their way to a knighthood for services to music. It would also acknowledge the labours of generations of parents who helped him to transform unruly boys into a unique musical instrument.

Click here for a list of higher education figures named in the real New Year Honours

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