'Anon' brings campus to book

September 8, 2006

The blurb on the novel's back cover promises great intrigue: a prominent academic caught in a conspiracy involving sexual harassment, blackmail and fraud, who "uncovers the dark side of the modern university".

And the publishers of A Campus Conspiracy , published this week, expect just as much intrigue over the identities of the anonymous author ("a prominent academic") and the institution on which the novel's fictional St Sebastian's University is based.

Speculation will doubtless be encouraged on www.acampusconspiracy.blog.com , a weblog set up for discussion of issues the book raises. These include the research assessment exercise, union politics and the new pay scales, as well as the "busty" student daughter of a millionaire bra manufacturer who accuses the novel's hero Harry Gilbert, a professor of Christian ethics, of sexual harassment.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative's Shadow Higher Education Minister, has described it as a "chilling exposé of political correctness on campus".

The author, contacting The Times Higher via e-mail, said that the thrust of his novel is summed up by what a regional union official tells the hero about St Sebastian's vice-chancellor.

The official says: "He's entirely at the mercy of the Government who has starved universities of funds for years. He is forced to take more and more students, and... educate them on less and less money... He can't afford to train anyone properly and, in any case, most academics are not natural managers. They're too much like prima donnas... It all comes down to money in the end. Universities don't have enough of it. They'll do anything for cash."

The author offered a number of clues to his identity. He is "an expert on Christian ethics and the New Testament", much like his hero. He is also "familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the upper middle classes, knowledgeable about the politics of the Church of England, aware of college life on American campuses". Like his hero, he is near retirement age.

The novel is published by Impress Books, a largely academic non-fiction imprint at Exeter University's Innovation Centre.

Publisher Richard Willis, who also runs courses in publishing at Exeter University, said: "I expect a lot of speculation about the author's identity. It is a terrific read, and anyone who has experienced campus life will be able to relate immediately to the characters and the predicaments they find themselves in."

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