Chair's report, 2004-2005

Graham Shipley

In 1944 J. R. R. Tolkien lamented how 'human stupidity ... (as "planners" refuse to see) is always magnified indefinitely by "organization"'.[1] His protest against modernism, while it is bound to strike a chord with any academic of the present day (or of the past half-century), must not be taken as a cue to blacken the efforts of all administrative agencies without exception. Some are more intrusive than others; the incoherence of some communications from the Quality (!) Assurance Agency (QAA) inspires little confidence. At the same time, CUCD finds itself cautiously optimistic about the Higher Education Academy, and is pleased with the keen support and interest displayed by the new Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), as was the case in its previous incarnation as a Board (AHRB). We can choose to respond to 'initiatives' by ignoring, deflecting, or subverting them, but the mature response - assuming their intentions do not seem inimical to what we value - is (cf. last year's report) to find in them what we can turn to mutual benefit, without going so far as to make them our vocation.

University staff today have no option but to see their role as leaders of the entire research community in their particular subject, both inside and outside Higher Education. Our research commitment qualifies us for the roles of teachers who can, alone perhaps, change public (especially graduates') attitudes to Greece and Rome. It is thus a genuine cause for celebration that Classics has begun to receive National Teaching Fellowships. Equally, we must respect the aspirations of Ph.D. graduates who progress into academic management or similar careers.

That said, renewed calls for nominations and increasingly frequent consultations mean that it has not been a quiet year at Standing Committee. The intervals between requests grow ever shorter. Standing Committee's wide-ranging discussions can be read on the website, but for a permanent record it seems right to round them up again briefly.

The undoubted highlight of the year was our reception at Parliament on 17 March 2005, held jointly with Friends of Classics. It is a pleasure again to record thanks to our host, Linda Perham (then MP for Ilford North, and a Leicester classics graduate); her assistants Edith Millar and Charlotte North (herself a Leicester and London graduate in ancient history and archaeology); the Banqueting Co-ordinator at the House of Commons, Jason Bonello, and his diligent and tactful staff; and especially Jeannie Cohen of Friends of Classics, who carried out nearly all the admin on our side.[2]

Invited guests included members of both Houses, MEPs, members of the Press, and distinguished Patrons of Friends of Classics. Some twenty parliamentarians, eight media representatives, forty university staff, representatives of learned societies, and eighty other members of Friends of Classics also attended (the list of attendees appears on p. 20 of this Bulletin). The event took place in the magnificent surroundings of the Members' Dining Room, under the watchful eyes of the famous parliamentarians whose portraits hang on the walls. It provided a valuable opportunity to thank parliamentarians for their support and to allow the different groups to exchange views on the present state and future prospects for Classics in the UK. Opening the formal speeches, Linda Perham recalled her days at university (among her tutors was Peter Wiseman, also present), the invaluable legacy of a classical education, and the loss of opportunities in state schools since the 1970s. The Chair's speech (reprinted in this Bulletin, p. 19) invoked the strength and creativity of university Classics today and the radical innovations of the past generation, which made it a relevant and living subject that could stand up to any scrutiny regime. Michael Fallon, MP, reminded the audience that a Classical education could also be justified on its own terms. Peter Jones concluded the formalities by praising (as, indeed, the other speakers had) the grass-roots work being done in both state and private schools, and conjured up a disquietingly Aristophanic image of a former Education Secretary.

Guests enjoyed convivial exchanges and there was much mingling between different interest groups. The evening continued well beyond the allotted time, until we were decanted via the stunning medieval interior of Westminster Hall to seek our Underground trains. A list of those attending.

A very positive account of the event by Lucy Hodges appeared in the Independent. One direct impact of the active networking that evening was in connection with the production and distribution of DVDs of the Cambridge Latin Course E-Learning Resource[3] on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, which had been subject to delays and hitches. As a result of questions in the House by Michael Fallon (briefed by Will Griffith of the Cambridge School Classics Project and by Peter Jones), Cambridge University Press took over the task. Book 1 is now available, book 2 expected next September.

Standing Committee plans to organize a similar event once in each Parliament. We eagerly await the formation of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Classics, which will do much for public awareness of our subjects.

CUCD's stature grows in other ways. We routinely receive invitations from funding agencies to attend meetings or put forward our views. The Chair, for example, represented CUCD at the AHRC's very first meeting under its new name, a day-long seminar with representatives of learned societies and subject associations. This allowed us to publicize our particular needs and aspirations, and to learn how other subject associations carry out their roles. The meeting is expected to be repeated annually. We have also responded to AHRC consultations on its Strategic Initiatives programme and on the funding of postgraduate courses (where there are indications that two-year master's courses and four-year Ph.D.s may, in some circumstances, be funded). We have supplied the AHRC with information on specialist or minority subject networks (less numerous here than in North America), and have continued to nominate potential members of the Peer Review College and grant-giving panels. The Chair sent a balanced letter in response to the then AHRB's poorly presented consultation (not, in fact, directed at Classics but at selected other subjects) about a 'top ten' journals list, recognizing that the motives were laudable but unwelcome consequences might result. The journals initiative (AHRB's response to pressure from the Office for Science and Technology, and thus ultimately from the Treasury) will re-emerge in a new guise this session.

Responses to other agencies include our working party led by Professor Robin Osborne (Cambridge) which has been preparing a detailed (but not radical) revision of the Benchmarking Statement on Classics and other subjects for the QAA. Other consultations have concerned the guidelines for the next RAE and, at the time of writing, the Burgess Report on credits and degree assessment.

The Chair served on the appointing panels for the Director of the new Subject Centre in Classics, which now succeeds the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) which Professor Lorna Hardwick and the project manager, Dr David Fitzpatrick, have so impressively headed at the Open University for the past few years. We welcome the new Director, Professor Christopher Rowe, and the new Project Manager, Dr Richard Williams, and look forward to new initiatives and continuing inspiration on the part of the Subject Centre. The Chair will serve ex officio on the Advisory Panel of the Classics Subject Centre. We thank Professor Colin Brooks, overall Director of the Subject Centre in History, Classics, and Archaeology (under the aegis of the Higher Education Academy), for his support and wise guidance. Thanks to his initiative, the Higher Education Academy is looking into employability among humanities graduates, in connection with which a working group is looking towards an update of Classics in the Marketplace.[4]

Partly in connection with our role vis-à-vis the Subject Centre, the Chair serves as chair of the steering committee of the AHRC-funded pilot project aiming to develop collaborative postgraduate research training. The project, based at the Institute of Classical Studies, is directed by Professor Mike Edwards (Deputy Director, ICS). The research assistant, Dr Anastasia Bakogianni, has visited every CUCD department and will be presenting the results of the data-gathering exercise in due course. We hope that this initiative (originally that of Professor Christopher Carey when Acting Director of the ICS) will develop into a regular forum coordinating training resources across the UK, as well as feeding into activities of the Subject Centre. It was in this connection that at the last Council meeting we enjoyed a stimulating presentation by Dra Marije Martijn (Leiden) on the Dutch 'Oikos' network for research postgraduate training, well known to UK staff who have taught within it. In this connection, too, CUCD is reviving the practice of sponsoring a panel at the Classical Association conference; in 2006, at Newcastle upon Tyne, it will be on a theme designed to be of interest to research students.

We now send the Bulletin to other societies both here and abroad. Members of departments who would like copies for publicity purposes (for example to distribute at conferences) may contact the Editor, Chair, or Webmaster, of whom one or more can usually lay hands on spares. The Webmaster, because of his London base, has agreed to store back numbers, and more importantly intends to put them on the website in both HTML and PDF formats.

We have been deemed worthy of an entry in Whitaker's Almanack for the first time.[5] This was made possible by acquiring a permanent postal address (c/o the Institute of Classical Studies), kindly arranged by Professor Edwards, which obviates the need for an annual update except when the Chair rotates.

During the past two sessions the Chair has also been involved in various ways with developments surrounding the ICS, including an internal review by the School of Advanced Studies and a London University review. While these have resulted in the welcome upgrading of the post of ICS Director, there have been knock-on or contradictory effects whose ramifications, yet to work through, may be negative. The news of the rewiring of part of Senate House and the temporary move of the ICS and Library have been something of a bolt from the blue. CUCD is watching the situation.

Paradoxically, when the Council and other subject associations are listened to with increasing attention in public forums, Classics (like the humanities in general) are under-represented in the biannual UK Honours List as compared with, professionals in education and science. Whatever members think of the List, the highlighting of distinguished academics heightens the standing of a subject. Generally these honours originate from a nomination from members of the public or a profession (see the Cabinet Office website).[6] Members of departments may wish to consider whether any senior figures in our discipline group might be suitable.

Beyond a merely responsive mode, CUCD can be switched into a pro-active role in response to news or questions. Our watching brief continues at Jordanhill: we are glad that the last Classics PGCE in Scotland is recruiting again, but its future remains insecure. Anxieties expressed to the Chair at several non-CUCD meetings - first about the competitiveness of UK Ph.D. graduates in job appointments, particularly in Ancient History, and, second, about the retention of female staff - were reflected in the Treasurer's questionnaire to departments. Both issues, however, turned out to resonate only sporadically, but Standing Committee minutes urge departments, as far as possible within university constraints, to protect both early career staff and parents of young children from overload. Competitiveness had also been raised by other subject associations at the AHRC meeting (above), where all agreed to call for more postdoctoral funding. Partly this need is covered by the AHRC's Research Leave Scheme, which under the new Full Economic Costing regime should give more scholars a toehold on the lecturership ladder, which will stand them in good stead whether or not they end up on an academic career path. But humanities subject associations are united in their desire to see more numerous, and more flexible, postdoctoral funding awards.

Finally, I should like to welcome our latest member, the Warburg Institute, and to thank my fellow Officers and members of Standing Committee. It seems likely at the time of writing that the Treasurer and Elections Officer may each be with us for a further term, but I thank them for a happy collaboration to date. The Secretary, Dr Philip Burton, completes his term at this year's Council, and deserves the particular gratitude of us all for his efficient and calm handling of a complex range of business. Not least, I thank the many Contacts and heads of departments who frequently respond to requests for information, often at short notice. Tolkien himself remarked that 'the wheels of the world' are turned by the accumulation of small actions.[7]

Graham Shipley
University of Leicester
October, 2005


Notes

[1]H. Carpenter, ed., The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (London 1995) 78–9 no. 66, at p. 78.
[2]The Chair wishes to record personal thanks for assistance, in his department, of Miss Angela Baxter and Dr Sarah Scott.
[3]See www.cambridgescp.com/latin/clc/clc_home.html.
[4]Classics in the Market Place: An Independent Research Study on Attitudes to the Employment of Classics Graduates ([London]: Council of University Classical Departments 1990). See also A. Wallace-Hadrill ‘Classics in the market place: towards a dialogue’, BCUCD 19 (1990) 19–23.
[5]Page 672 of the 2006 edition (published October 2005).
[6]www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/ceremonial/.
[7]Not in those exact terms, but see e.g. Carpenter (n. 1), 143–61 no. 131, at pp. 149, 160.


CUCD Bulletin 34 (2005)
© Graham Shipley & Council of University Classical Departments 2005

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