Don's Diary

June 20, 1997


Anglia Television records news item about the court case I am seeking to bring against the university with respect to its promotion procedures. There are a lot of promotion candidates in Cambridge whose sense of injustice is as passionate as mine. But I am the one who has decided to go for broke, and their hopes ride on my success. Cameraman asks me to walk along in front of the best bits of architecture in a gown. The architecture looks well. I learn that they have lined someone up to speak "for" the university tomorrow.

Send off proofs of new book, blessing computer which puts index into alphabetical order. Meet with group of colleagues who want to help with the campaign. We plan ways of fast-forwarding the tape; three years of campaigning ought to be enough. One of the things this increasingly public row can do which is positive and constructive is to show how it works when the governing body is the whole academic community and everyone has a voice and a vote. But even our real freedom of speech in Cambridge can be curtailed by fear of reprisal. It is not thought that you help your chances of promotion by being seen to complain about the system.


Meet Anglia TV people again, to learn that the person I was going to shake hands with has discovered an urgent appointment elsewhere. Lost opportunity to make the visual point that this is a mature democracy in which we can have a good row with good humour. Mark examination papers for external examiner's meeting next week in Dublin. See former doctoral student applying for a job, and do my best to keep his courage up. Write three references for another doctoral student with two infant children and desperate need of an income. Suspect their chances would be improved if their referee could sign self "Professor". Talk to doctoral student who wants to know where commentary of Albertus Magnus on Aristotle is to be found in edition more modern than 16th century. Comfort distressed examination candidate.


Speak at conference of the UCELNET as public policy secretary of the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards. Room full of senior university administrators and solicitors who work for universities. Excellent atmosphere of shared concern. Hope that face is now attached to the author of awkward letters of inquiry about what is going on came over as responsible person.


Go to see friend in Berkshire, purchasing goldfish on the way to eat mosquito larvae in garden pond. Drive trying to avoid too much stop-go, balancing large wobbly plastic bag full of water and air and 11 very small puzzled fish on passenger seat. Think about new book and battle-plans to bracing Vivaldi, making occasional notes against the steering wheel while stationary in queues. Best ideas always come at high speed on motorways.


Take stock of how much of the latest book I have managed to get written in the interstices of the week, over cups of coffee and in corners of remote libraries where no one will think of looking for me. Write another speech. Fish zooming about pond. Barrister friend suggests I have strong case under equal opportunities legislation.


Francis Cornford describes in his Microcosmographia Academica how in 1908 the way to get things done in the University of Cambridge was to stroll up and down King's Parade between 2pm and 4pm until you met "by chance" other persons on the same errand. Now one's colleagues are thus to be encountered outside Marks and Spencer's clutching a packet of sandwiches, and no one has leisure for anything but genuinely chance meetings. Run into colleague indispensable for telling one whether one has interpreted the statutes correctly, and check with him that what I intend to say in my speech tomorrow in the senate is constitutionally unassailable. "Saw you on the TV news," say beaming porters, messengers and tea ladies. "Hope you win!" The tide of support is very heart-warming, since today includes lengthy battle during meeting of one of the university's central bodies. I fail, as before, to win minds on the subject of the reforms. Positions are now very embattled. Wish they could separate the fact that they are cross with me from the question of whether I am talking sense. Ring Equal Opportunities Commission. Colleague brings round his own speech in evening. Discuss tactics.


Make speech in Senate House. This is a pleasurably historic thing to do. Debates in the senate are like mediaeval disputations. Exactly 100 years ago they were debating whether women who had passed the same degree examinations as men could be allowed to have the degrees they had earned. It took another 50 years to win that point. But I am dug in for a long battle. One can only hope that if a campaign is fought openly and honourably that will make its own point; and that one's personal academic reputation will stand the strain.


Lecturer in history in the University of Cambridge.

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