The brain trust, promoted to high office

Scholars imagine a government formed of academics

May 14, 2015

This column was written as the final general election results came in, with David Cameron looking set to have secured a majority and five more years in 10 Downing Street.

But what if you were to form a government from academics? Who would be your ideal prime minister? Who could run the Department of Health? Which scholar would be a good fit for the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Times Higher Education used its Twitter account (@timeshighered) to put this very question to our followers, urging them to use the hashtag #FantasyHEgovernment.

Danny Dorling (@dannydorling), Halford Mackinder professor of geography at the University of Oxford, tweeted that Allyson Pollock (@AllysonPollock) would make “the ideal Secretary of State for Health”. Professor Pollock is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, and she set up and directed the Centre for International Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh from 2005 to 2011.

Meanwhile, Vicky Duckworth (@vicky_duckworth), senior lecturer in further education and training at Edge Hill University, suggested a “new job” as “culture secretary perhaps” for THE’s books editor, Karen Shook (@TimesHigherArts). Ms Shook had a string of suggestions of her own. Nobel laureate economist and Columbia University professor Joseph E. Stiglitz (@JosephEStiglitz) would make an ideal chancellor; the “fearless” Edzard Ernst, physician and emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, would fit right in as health minister; and “surely we need” Joanna Williams (@jowilliams293), programme director for the master’s in higher education and senior lecturer at the University of Kent, as minister for higher education, she said. “Only in my dreams,” replied Dr Williams. “And other people’s nightmares.”

In another light-hearted hashtag, #AcademicNovel, Twitter account and blog Academia Obscura (@AcademiaObscura) asked followers to tweet examples of novel titles that had been tweaked to make reference to academia, putting forward “Fear and Loathing in the Tenure Committee” as a Hunter S. Thompson-inspired opening gambit, and following it up with the raunchy “50 Grades a Day”.

Hundreds of Twitter users took part. Kate Maxwell (@skatemaxwell), a “postdoc” and “research communicator”, suggested Dante’s “The Divine Committee”; Jake Ingram (@JakeBotV2) proposed Tolkien’s “The Two (Ivory) Towers”; and “professional thinker” Chris Bohn (@DocBohn) went for Dickens’ “Grade Expectations” and Douglas Adams’ “Life, the University, and Everything”.

The fun didn’t stop there either. Erin Fisher (@DrErinFisher), professor of psychology at Rock Valley College in Illinois, wanted to read Steinbeck’s “The Grades of Wrath”; PhD candidate Matt (@kocsan) took the conversation back to Dickens with “A Tale of Two Citations”; and April Follies (@aprilfollies) somewhat took the edge off H. G. Wells with the title “War of the Words”.

Some were in less of a jokey mood. “Les Miserables”, tweeted graduate student Emma Barry (@AuthorEmmaBarry). “No title change required.”

Chris Parr

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