Just over a year ago I offered some thoughts about what might make 2016 a satisfactory twelvemonth in my life. To be totally frank, looking back at that post I marvel at the banality of what I wrote, a little cocktail of the technical and the trivial at the beginning of a year; a year that had rather more ambition than that and was going to upset many of the expectations and hopes and assumptions of the circles I tend to move in. 2016 certainly did not bring success for Newcastle United, nor did it bury the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). It did however bring Brexit and President Trump, two developments that I didn’t at that point predict and which have eclipsed the more prosaic concerns I listed.

Maybe I belong to those who have indulged in what Boris Johnson has called a ‘whinge-o-rama’ as our preferences and aspirations were apparently shredded by popular vote. But these are moments when it is appropriate to explore again what we stand for, and why, and how we can work for success in what is now an undoubtedly different setting. Every watershed change in politics is in fact an invitation to explore ideas and to re-emphasise principle and clarity of thought, not expediency, as the driver of action.

So my hope for 2017 is that we, in the universities, can offer an effective forum for such an exploration, where all views can be aired and analysed and where the values of tolerance and rigour of debate can co-exist successfully.

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3 Comments on “2017”

  1. Vince Says:

    Sometimes we have years that must be endured and survived. For me 2011 was far worse.

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    In truth not all your expectations for 2016 proved to be unfounded, Aberdeen City and Shire did succeed in the bid for a City Region Deal. I noticed that my comment to that post of yours referred to a clip by comedian John Oliver on the merits of developing a *managing disappointment* skill, that proved to be somewhat accurate. I did not predict Trump’s Presidency, but I certainly saw Brexit coming, my two guest posts “Knocking on Europe’s door” and “Knocking louder on Europe’s door” of October 7, 2013 and September 27, 2015 respectively (https://universitydiary.wordpress.com/?s=knocking+on+europe%27s+door) reflected the increasing anti-immigration rhetoric and mounting xenophobia in the UK and were the basis for my conviction that Brexit was inevitable.

    I am not sure that wishing for universities to be some kind of neutral “forum for the exploration of ideas” is quite frankly enough right now, universities *need to take a stand* for what they are believe in. I shall explain what I mean by referring to the recent appearance in the Irish Times of an article entitled “The alt-right movement: everything you need to know”
    where the author provided an utterly *acritical*, one could say fawning, overview of what the so-called “alt-right movement” is about. Following the publication so many complaints were received that John McManus, Opinion Editor of The Irish Times, had to explain why the piece was accepted:

    The first and main point is that the purpose of the Opinion and Analysis section is to inform readers about the issues of the day, offer insights and give them something to think about. Its purpose is also to stimulate and advance arguments about matters of public interest. (http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/why-we-published-nicholas-pell-s-article-on-the-alt-right-1.2926420)

    What was on offer was certainly an opinion with no analysis to correlate it, it was just information. For McManus the paper, not dissimilarly from universities, is just a forum, performing a public service in order “to stimulate and advance arguments”.
    One might argue of course that the above piece would have not found a presence within academia, but are we really sure? And what do we mean exactly when we call for universities to be fora for discussion? How far do we stretch the enlightened view “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”, which has been wrongly attributed to Voltaire (post-truth is no news)? I happen to think that this is the time for each of us working in universities, in our different capacities, as teachers, researchers, administrators, leaders to clearly identify and fight what is facing us in 2017, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, anti-semitism…taking for granted our liberties would be a grave mistake. Nazism and Fascism are often evoked, often mistakenly, in order to make senses of the current (post)ideological landscape, we should take comfort from the fact that the past never repeats itself in an exact manner, and yet we do need to remember that both Italy and Germany then were “democratic” until they degenerated *quickly* into dictatorships. I don’t know whether writing this makes me a ‘whinge-o-rama’, but quite frankly I could not give a damn if it does!

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