Fourth Degree, by Laurie Taylor – 15 August

All campus life is here

August 15, 2019
Lady Gaga kicks academic
Source: Getty montage

Is anybody listening?

Laurie Taylor reports

 A significant number of senior academics have rushed to praise Nobel prizewinner Michael Kosterlitz for his recent assertion that any attempt to explain physics to the “man or woman in the street” is “a waste of time”.

“Kosterlitz is bang on,” observed leading sociologist Doug Witherspoon of Lowestoft University College. “But he should not have confined himself to physics. When I recently endeavoured to explain my own work on the epistemological foundation of the embourgoisement thesis on Radio 2’s Andrew Marr programme, I was interrupted by no fewer than two traffic updates and then cut short at a critical part of my exegesis by someone with the unlikely name of Lady Gaga.”

However, a rather different perspective was provided by philosopher T. B. Slope of the University College of Old Sarum, who maintained that the total inability of any normal person to understand a word of his own work on Derridean deconstruction was an invaluable way of maintaining French philosophy’s traditional reliance upon incomprehensibility as an indication of scholastic merit.

A special announcement

This will be the last edition of Fourth Degree. A number of contingent issues lie behind this sad decision. In the first place there is the urgent need for Times Higher Education to find space in its pages for the ever-burgeoning number of world league tables. If you loved last week’s exciting list of “The 50 universities in the world that no one has ever heard of”, you’ll revel in next week’s league table of the “100 top-rated universities in the world that owe their current esteem almost entirely to ruthless self-promotion”.

But the principal determining factor was the result of an informal poll among several thousand academics, which revealed that almost nobody found anything remotely amusing about the current state of UK higher education. In the words of one leading don: “Like everyone else, I like nothing more than a good joke. But not when it has so evidently become my daily place of work.”


As the editor of Fourth Degree hangs up his boots for the last time, we ask about his life and times.

You have been contributing to Times Higher Education for the past 40 years. What vivid memories do you retain from all those years of service?

I’m so sorry but could you speak up a little?

I was asking about your memory.

I’m afraid I don’t have a good memory but at least I make up for it by having a good memory.

The greatest influence on your life?

There have been so many. Obviously one thinks of Pascal’s Pensées and La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims, but, on the whole, all things considered, I’d have to say that nothing has played quite such an important role in my general approach to academic life as Gordon’s Gin.

Have you had a eureka moment?

Well, I’d have to say that life was never quite the same after the occasion when I mistook my wife for a hat, but, from a more academic perspective, I’d probably have to choose the moment when I first discovered that the Freudian concept of penis envy was limited to women.

Your biggest regret?

That I never actually met Jayne Mansfield.

When are you happiest?

I’d have to choose the present time. It is something of a blessing to realise that one has reached the point in one’s life when one is no longer burdened by traditional chores.

What chores?

That’s very generous of you. I think I’ll settle for a large Gordon’s. 

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Mary Beard’s recent admission that she is a ‘mug’ who works 100 hours a week caused a Twitter storm. But how hard is it reasonable for academics to work? Who should decide? And should the mugs be obliged to keep quiet? Seven academics have their say

20 February


Featured jobs