Eagle lands: literary critic snapped up by rivals after forced retirement

Terry Eagleton has found many willing employers since leaving Manchester, reports John Gill

October 23, 2008

Just a few months after he was deemed too old to stay on at the University of Manchester, the celebrated literary critic Terry Eagleton has landed a new job at a rival university in the North West of England.

Professor Eagleton was told that his position as a lecturer in English literature would end after he reached the official retirement age of 65. However, he felt he still had much to offer and fought to stay on, but his appeal failed and he left the university this summer.

Now he has been snapped up by Lancaster University, where he has taken a chair in the department of English and creative writing, as well as being appointed to a similar post at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Professor Eagleton said it was ironic that one of Manchester's neighbouring institutions had sought him out after the university let him go and said his new appointments might be "two sources of discomfort" for his former employer.

He said: "I was really pleased that several universities, including a couple in the States, got in touch when they heard about the Manchester situation, and that Lancaster and Galway were kind enough to create these special chairs.

"I am pleased to be working at the National University of Ireland because of my Irish background, but also at Lancaster because of my Lancashire roots. I have long connections with some people involved with the (latter) university so it will be a great thrill."

The case may comfort those academics keen to work beyond the age of 65.

Under current employment law, employees can be forced to retire when they reach 65. Although both employee and employer can request that this default retirement age is ignored, there is no legal obligation for either party to agree. Earlier this year the European Court of Justice rejected a claim by Age Concern offshoot Heyday, which argued that forcing people out at 65 was a breach of European equality laws.

Professor Eagleton's role at Lancaster will see him working on an ad hoc basis, he said, giving public lectures and "seeing any PhD student who wants to consult me".

This was a role that he said Manchester "could not get its head around" during his time there.

"There's an attractive amount of freedom about it; I had a similar role in Manchester, but it was strange because they hired me to be that kind of maverick, to do seminars here and there and to speak to students here and there, but like many an organisation they didn't seem to be able to cope with it.

"They could never really get their heads around the idea of someone who couldn't quite be pigeonholed, although ironically it was precisely in that function that they had hired me in the first place."

He added: "When a school of arts can't think imaginatively you begin to worry, don't you? But I am very pleased with the deal with Lancaster because I think they thoroughly understand the idea of bringing someone in on a kind of ad hoc basis rather than pinning me down. They seem to have that insight whereas Manchester really didn't."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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