Snuffing out academic eccentricity
Today a friend of mine from another university (which I won’t name) told me about an investigation that has just been launched there to determine whether a particular lecturer’s eccentricity is incompatible with quality requirements. The lecturer concerned does not, I gather, find it emotionally right to face his students, and so he lectures with his back to them. It’s really rather a striking image, a kind of pre-Vatican 2 approach to teaching. As I understand it, students have never complained (though it is a matter of some humorous comment), but a visiting quality assurance team found it unacceptable.
I have in a previous post pointed out that a university system should have some eccentrics, not least in order to avoid the potentially boring uniformity that we would otherwise have to endure – a point also made a few years ago in Times Higher Education by a professor from Sheffield University. Conformity in all things, including teaching conduct, is quite likely to breed intellectual conformity and an impoverishment of academic life. I would readily agree that it would not work well if all academics cultivated eccentricity, and I would argue that it would be a different matter if students objected in a particular case or if the eccentricity consisted of a neglect of duties. But on the whole we need to be tolerant of different ways of thinking, and different ways of doing. We need to welcome and celebrate creativity, which often is closely related to non-conformity.
And above all, we need to discourage all those who believe that quality is found in uniformity.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.