Readers will be aware of my petition calling upon the AHRC to remove references to "The Big Society" (a political campaign slogan of the Conservative Party during the last general election) from its current delivery plan setting out the strategic research funding priorities in the arts and humanities. The petition can be found here.
The latest news is here and the AHRC's first move is to do nothing and deny there is a problem. This is highly discouraging. The petition does not claim political interference. It does not claim that the "Connected Communities" research theme was decided after the last election. The petition does not reject the theme nor does it even reject the idea of a "Big Society" (even if many signatories would take issue with many of these related points). The petition takes a position on principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in the delivery plans published by research councils pertaining to strategic research funding priorities. It is not the slogan we criticize, but the mere fact that it is incorporated at all (and it is mentioned five times in the brief plan).
The AHRC could resolve this swiftly by removing the language and building upon the good will of its community. Clearly, the support for the petition demonstrates that a great many of us from across political and disciplinary divides care about the AHRC and research councils more generally. However, if the AHRC fails to accept this point of principle, then I cannot see how I and other members of its Peer Review College can remain in post and widespread resignations may follow. This would be a highly unnecessary and unwelcome outcome that can easily be avoided. Let us hope the AHRC does the right thing in the best interests for arts and humanities research.
UPDATE: We have now heard word from matters arising from the government minister, David Willetts. His statement can be found here. It notes that the AHRC was not pressured by his government, but that the AHRC's research priorities do connect with the government's "Big Society" campaign slogan. Thus, this is further evidence of why colleagues should join the 2,200 of us who signed the petition linked above to remove political campaign slogans of all parties from the delivery plans for strategic funding priority.