Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

The Clandestine University

A recent article by Thomas Doherty in the Timer Higher Education, suggests that within increasingly polished ‘Official Universities’, Clandestine scholarship is becoming the only way to carry out real research and teaching.

Doherty argues that with :

“Transparency playing as a poor substitute for truth; and raw Information supplanting the curiosity-driven demands for critical knowledge that are the primary concern of a serious university, there exist at least two universities within each institution: an “Official” one and a “Clandestine” one.” (text slightly adapted)

He goes on to detail all the things that the Clandestine university does but cannot admit to. Things which are fundamental to keeping the heart of knowledge-generation beating, but which don’t officially exist.

  • Things like spinning grant applications to the funder’s specifications and then subverting the grant to fund research that the researcher originally wanted to do, but wouldn’t have been able to do because of the political set of the funder.
  • Things like subverting the ‘aims, objectives, structure, delivery, evaluation’ model of lecturing and, instead, using classrooms as places to really engage with students and their learning,

Doherty argues that these are things that actually keep universities going, and students learning – but that are anathema to the painted and polished façade that the Official university seeks to (perhaps, now, has to) present – and so have to be hidden.

Is this new? That’s how it appears to me – although I’ll admit that my perspective is probably skewed by my background.

I grew up in Cambridge, where the template of a very ‘Monastic’ University was still clear in the daily academic lives around me. Cambridge University was – in my mind – a riotous and unruly mix of genius, research, teaching anddiscovery; full of learnèd eccentrics all barely fitted to life outside the ivory asylum…  but somehow, there, enabled and even encouraged to dream, and do, and learn, and achieve amazing things within a structure that was maintained by a service staff of porters, buildings and councils.

As a child, I aspired to be one of those academics… free to think, to teach, to learn, to wonder, to ponder – while the mundane-ness of business was taken care of by someone else.

… to an extent, that’s how I planned my return to academia – “Find a job, get it… do it well, stay there… be happy, be free”.

However, now that I work in one of the UK’s biggest universities, only one rung below Cambridge really in terms of its research prestige, I appreciate that the halcyon days of academic freedom, seen through the eyes of a Cambridge teenager, may never really have existed beyond those hallowed towers. May not even inside those hallowed towers.

It’s great to argue that freedom should be the lot of every academic. However, where I am, I have to face the gritty reality that it’s not going to simply ‘happen’, and fight to make the best of what’s there.

My old vision is not enough. I need a new vision – a new approach – a subversive approach.

One which will involve being a master of the Clandestine, whilst also becoming a champion of the ‘Official’.



This entry was posted on November 15, 2011 by in Musings and tagged , , , , , .
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