Thursday, June 30, 2011

Death: Its Meaning, Morality, and Metaphysics conference

The conference website is here.

Death: Its Meaning, Metaphysics, and Morality conference


Politics Building, Newcastle University (UK)
6-7 July 2011

Keynote speakers:

Ben Bradley (Syracuse)
Mary Midgley (Newcastle)


This conference focuses on the meaning, metaphysics, and morality of death. Speakers include:

Timo Airaksinen (Helsinki)
William Baird (Georgia State)
Kathy Behrendt (Wilfrid Laurier)
Stephan Blatti (Memphis)
Ben Curtis (Nottingham)
Jon Garthoff (Northwestern)
Geoffrey Scarre (Durham)
Saul Smilansky (Haifa)
Alex Voorhoeve (LSE)
Aaron Wolf (Syracuse)

This conference is sponsored by the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics at Georgia State University and the Newcastle Ethics, Legal, and Political Philosophy (NELPP) Group at Newcastle University.

Please contact ME if you have any questions.

Public sector pension reform: my advice to the Prime Minister

Today, the march against austerity measures begins. Or does it? Several different trade unions have taken to the streets. Uniting the unions is anger over the government's reforms for public sector pensions. The short version is that many will have to work longer and pay more in order to receive less in retirement. So much for our never having it so good. We are told these reforms are necessary. The Labour Party didn't save for a rainy day and we're faced with storm clouds for months to come. We are also living longer and pensions becoming more expensive to maintain. Oh, and the government argues that the public sector does rather well on pensions compared to the private sector. Arguments against take various forms. One is that wages are higher in the private sector: public sector pensions are paid in lieu of salaries. A second is that a great number of public sector workers will earn a comparatively low pension. Each side has their arguments and the confrontation begins. (Further details from the BBC here.)

My advice to the Prime Minister is this: you should lead from the front to help clarify your message to better win support. There have been a dizzying array of reforms and so-called "u-turns" in the coalition's first year in office. For parties that have a coalition agreement no one else agreed to they do seem in a hurry, something noted recently in a New Statesman editorial by "ABC" (or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to people like us). People are certainly confused by these many announcements and nothing induces more fear than worry about - to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld - "unknown unknowns". The government's task is to better clarify the message to end confusion and perhaps soften opposition.

I would advise the government to lead from the front. Too often the public believes that politicians fail to see what's good enough for the goose isn't satisfactory to the gander; or, to put it differently, that "we're all in this together" except the small group of politicians cutting pensions only for other people. Politicians care only for themselves, or so members of the public may say. This was only reinforced by the Parliamentary expenses saga. They say all challenges offer new opportunities: this challenge presents a new opportunity as well.

The government should act to ensure that MPs face a reduction on their pensions no less than proposed for public sector workers. They should lead by setting an example. If we are in it together, then they shouldn't tell us -- they should make it a reality. If politicians took a pension reduction (and, of course, many could easily afford it), then they could claim they want to win the public's trust post-expenses fiasco and that they understand something about what people are going through because they took a reduction first.

The Prime Minister has every reason to follow this advice. After all, he has busied himself in recent years to "de-tocify" (not his term) the Conservative Party brand. For example, consider the great lengths he has gone to sell NHS reforms as good for the NHS and the public. Plus, it would lend a better air of sincerity. Many are suspicious of whether a genuine concern about the economy or ideology lies behind some reforms. This would be a concrete example that the public could better identify with. The public can see that even the politicians (at least...) took a reduction. This might not end future strikes, but it would help the government win over public opinion.

Of course, I don't agree with the government's position. Some pension reform may be necessary, but I am not yet convinced -- nor are the many marching today -- that it is necessary and that it must necessarily look a certain way. It is also a problem that the government (on the one hand) says that reforms are necessary and (on the other hand) they are willing to negotiate still (which sounds like the reforms are kinda maybe necessary which isn't quite the same thing).

Either way, it will be interesting to see if the government takes this advice. It would be an improvement on their current strategy, but have they already made up their mind?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thom Brooks on "The Story That Almost Never Was"

. . . can be found at Politics.co.uk. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The AHRC has clearly lost the argument on this issue. Academics disagree with each other for a living. Such widespread and unprecedented solidarity is unique and it crosses disciplinary and political divides. Literally thousands have endorsed our clear statement of principle: political campaign slogans should have no place in research council delivery plans. The AHRC should listen to the clear calls for change that ring across all parts of the sector. It is time they act to make this small, but important, change to the delivery plan. The ball is in their court. We now watch and wait. [. . .]"

Research Fortnightly on the AHRC and Big Society

Details here on the latest developments.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Senior Academics Resign Over Big Society

For immediate release: 27th June 2011

SENIOR ACADEMICS RESIGN OVER BIG SOCIETY

Senior academics have resigned from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College over the inclusion of the “Big Society” in the AHRC’s delivery plan. This has come after the AHRC rejected calls for change from across the sector. The academics include many of the most senior and well respected figures in leading university departments. Some have served on the Peer Review College since its inception. This is not done lightly: the Peer Review College provides invaluable assistance in vetting research proposals submitted to the AHRC. The academics now call on their colleagues to join them in an en masse resignation unless the “Big Society” is removed from the AHRC delivery plan.

The AHRC delivery plan outlines the research council’s strategic priorities. The plan states that it aspires to make a “contribution” to the “Big Society” agenda (sects. 3.10, 3.12). One research programme (“Connected Communities”) will “enable the AHRC to contribute to the government’s initiatives on localism and the ‘Big Society’” (sect. 2.4.4).

The inclusion of the “Big Society” in the AHRC delivery plan has proved highly controversial. Petitions calling for the removal of the “Big Society” from the AHRC delivery plan have attracted signatures from nearly 4,000 academics. There have been several letters and opinion essays published in national and international news media. This position has won the support of more than 30 learned societies. This widespread and unprecedented public support crosses disciplinary and political divisions.

“This is a position of principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans. Period,” says Dr Thom Brooks, an academic at Newcastle University who has led this important campaign for change. “We call on the AHRC to agree the removal of the ‘Big Society’ from its delivery plan without delay or risk further resignations.”

Notes for Editors:


• More than 40 leading academics resign from Arts and Humanities Peer Review College in protest over the “Big Society” in the AHRC delivery plan.


• The campaign to remove the “Big Society” from the AHRC delivery plan has attracted unprecedented widespread support from across disciplinary and political divisions.


• More than 4,000 academics have signed public statements calling on the AHRC to make this change. This statement is endorsed by 30+ learned societies.



PRESS CONTACT:


Name: Dr Thom Brooks

Tel: (0191) 222 5288

Email: thom.brooks@newcastle.ac.uk


We announce our resignations from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College because of the AHRC’s failure to remove the “Big Society” from its delivery plan. Our stand is personal as members of the academic community and it does not represent our home institutions.

Professor Grenville G. Astill, Professor of Archaeology, University of Reading

Professor Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford

Professor Stephen Bottoms, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, University of Leeds

Professor Emma Borg, Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading

Dr Thom Brooks, Reader in Political and Legal Philosophy, Newcastle University

The Revd Professor Mark D. Chapman, Vice Principal, Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford

Professor Sarah Colvin, Professor in the Study of Contemporary Germany, University of Birmingham

Dr Peter M. Day, Reader in Archaeological Materials, University of Sheffield

Professor Antony Duff FBA FRSE, Professor of Philosophy, University of Stirling

Professor Steven French, Professor of Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds

Professor David Gillespie, Professor of Russian, University of Bath

Professor Leslie Green, Professor of the Philosophy of Law, University of Oxford

Professor Valerie A. Hall FSA FHEA, Professor Emerita of Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Paul L. Halstead, Professor of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor John Harrington, Professor of Law, University of Liverpool

Professor Matti Häyry, Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy of Law, University of Manchester

Professor Nicholas Hewlett, Professor of French Studies, University of Warwick

Professor Maggie Humm, Professor in Humanities, University of East London

Professor Mark Humphries, Professor of Ancient History, Swansea University

Professor Dina Iordnaova, Director of Centre for Film Studies, University of St Andrews

Professor Glynis Jones, Professor of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor Debra Kelly, Professor of French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Westminster

Dr Elizabeth Eva Leach, University Lecturer in Music, University of Oxford

Professor Karen Leeder, Professor of Modern German Literature, University of Oxford

Professor Alison MacLeod, Professor of Contemporary Fiction, University of Chichester

Professor Alexander Miller, Professor of Philosophy, University of Birmingham

Professor Anthony Milton, Professor of History, University of Sheffield

Dr Catherine Moriarty, Principal Research Fellow, University of Brighton

Professor Rosalind O’Hanlon, Professor of Indian History and Culture, University of Oxford

Professor David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy, University of Southampton

Dr Paul B. Pettitt FSA, Reader in Palaeolithic Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Dr Stephen Parkinson, Lecturer in Portuguese Language and Linguistics, University of Oxford

Professor Julian Preece, Professor of German, Swansea University

Professor Ritchie Robertson FBA, Taylor Professor of German, University of Oxford

Professor Irit Rogoff, Professor of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Karen Ross, Professor of Media and Public Communication, University of Liverpool

Professor Sean Sayers, Professor of Philosophy, University of Kent, Canterbury

Professor Ricarda Schmidt, Professor in German, University of Exeter

Professor Patrick Stevenson, Professor of German and Linguistic Studies, University of Southampton

Professor Robert Vilain, Professor of German, University of Bristol

Professor David Walker, Professor of French, University of Sheffield

Professor Paul Williams, Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy, University of Bristol

Professor Ian Wood, Professor of Early Medieval History, University of Leeds

AHRC Peer Review College members who have resigned already on this issue:

Professor Bob Brecher, Professor of Ethics, University of Brighton

Professor M. M. Lisboa, Professor of Portuguese Literature and Culture, University of Cambridge

UPDATE: Further resignations have followed this press release:

Dr Roger Sansi-Roca, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Goldsmiths

Peter Seddon, Reader in Arts Practices and Historiography, Brighton University

"Top academics threaten to resign over funding into big society research"

. . . has been published by The Guardian here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Forty-three departmental heads and research leaders from Queen Mary's University in Belfast to Southampton University have put their names to a statement saying that they will quit as peer reviewers for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) unless the body removes all references to the "big society" from its strategic delivery plan.


[. . .] The protest statement, which is signed by several British Academy fellows and six Oxford professors, reads: "We threaten to resign en masse from the AHRC Peer Review College if there are no clear steps taken to remove the 'big society' from the AHRC delivery plan."


[. . .] Thom Brooks, a philosophy professor at Newcastle University and one of the organisers of the protest, said that all the signatories to the statement were very senior academics who were not prone to making public complaints. "If you look at the list, people come from literally all over the country and these are not people you normally see protest. There are several fellows of the British Academy and people who have been on the peer review college since its inception," he said. "They have a deep interest in the AHRC and are supportive of it. No one wants to cause problems [but] it's because they care so much about the AHRC that they've been willing to stand up and speak to this issue," he added.


Brooks said that if the AHRC did not respond with "clear steps" outlining how it would remove the big society as a funding priority, the 43 academics would resign and could encourage others to follow their lead. "We are expecting that on Monday that [the AHRC] will publicly announce some very clear and positive steps to removing the big society from its delivery plan.

"We will lead from the front. If nothing happens by Monday we will all resign … and we will begin contacting other members of the college." He added: "The ball is in their court." [. . .]"

UPDATE: Now Poppleton University joins the campaign! Details here.

The Times Higher on the AHRC and Big Society

Details here.

Thom Brooks on the "Continuing Scandal of a Political Slogan in a Research Council Publication"

My new op-ed has been published today in The Guardian calling on the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council to remove the "Big Society" from its current delivery plan. The article can be found here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] We might ask: so what? The council will find new reviewers to replace those that resign. What's the big deal, we might wonder, with a few words in a delivery plan? These words matter. If we do nothing, then there may be real consequences for academics. The first is that political campaign slogans may become further embedded in future research council delivery plans on strategic research funding priorities and by other research councils beyond the AHRC. The second is that there may become institutional pressure – perhaps only indirectly – in favour of research relating to these slogans. It is telling that the council plan (and its several references to the 'big society') may well outlive the government.


Governments come and go, so it is important to stand up for clear and compelling principles such as this. This issue has united the academic community in support of a change.
Many have supported this campaign because so many passionately support the excellent work of the council. We care about its work and reputation for excellence. The ball is in its court."

InsideHigherEd on politics and research funding in the UK

Details here. Senior academics on the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College intend to resign today if the AHRC fails to offer "clear positive steps" in removing a Conservative Party political campaign slogan -- the "Big Society" -- from its delivery plan on strategic research funding priorities.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

David Mitchell on the private sector and universities

. . . . can be found here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] Yes, people who work in the private sector must look at public sector workers in disbelief. How did you end up there, they must think. What personality cocktail of laziness, self-loathing and intractable mediocrity would have led you to try to make your fortune (your incredibly modest fortune, albeit with overgenerous pension provision made possible only by tying the hands of enterprise) in that gloomy bureaucratic Mariana trench, far from the nourishing rays of the profit motive?

[. . .] The private sector caused the credit crunch, the financial crisis, the global recession. The public sector bailed out the banks and brought the world back from the brink of ruin. When our railways were in public hands, they were shabby, unreliable and loss-making. In private hands, they still are but public money ends up in the hands of shareholders and the tickets cost vastly more. The NHS is the most efficient health service of its peers despite having, up till now, much less private sector involvement than they do. The armed forces remain in the public sector and people seldom have cause to criticise their efficiency or commitment. [. . .]"

Friday, June 24, 2011

Senior academics prepare to resign over "Big Society"

We now have the latest in the Times Higher Education found here.

Readers might note that today the AHRC meets with subject associations to discuss how the delivery plan might be rolled out. This delivery plan includes several mentions of the "Big Society," a political campaign slogan of the Conservative Party.

The AHRC has until Monday, 27 June 2011 to offer positive steps towards removing the "Big Society" from its delivery plan or senior academics serving on their AHRC Peer Review College will resign.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Senior academics threaten resignations over Big Society

For immediate release: 23rd June 2011


SENIOR ACADEMICS THREATEN RESIGNATIONS OVER BIG SOCIETY


Senior academics have declared their intention to resign from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College if there are no clear steps taken to remove the “Big Society” from the AHRC’s delivery plan by Monday, 27th June 2011. The academics include many of the most senior and well respected figures in leading university departments. Further resignations from the AHRC Peer Review College may follow their lead. This will not be done lightly: the Peer Review College provides invaluable assistance in vetting research proposals submitted to the AHRC.


The AHRC delivery plan outlines the research council’s strategic priorities. The plan states that it aspires to make a “contribution” to the “Big Society” agenda (sects. 3.10, 3.12). One research programme (“Connected Communities”) will “enable the AHRC to contribute to the government’s initiatives on localism and the ‘Big Society’” (sect. 2.4.4).


The inclusion of the “Big Society” in the AHRC delivery plan has proved highly controversial. Petitions calling for the removal of the “Big Society” from the AHRC delivery plan have attracted signatures from nearly 4,000 academics. There have been several letters and opinion essays published in national and international news media. This position has won the support of more than 30 learned societies. This widespread and unprecedented public support crosses disciplinary and political divisions. The AHRC has refused to remove the “Big Society” from the delivery plan. Senior academics now call on the AHRC to change the delivery plan or they will lead a mass exodus.


“This is a position of principle, not politics: political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans. Period,” says Dr Thom Brooks, an academic at Newcastle University who has led this important campaign for change. “We call on the AHRC to agree the removal of the ‘Big Society’ from its delivery plan without further delay to avoid the need for resignations.”


Notes for Editors:


• More than 40 leading academics threatening en masse resignations.


• The campaign to remove the “Big Society” from the AHRC delivery plan has attracted unprecedented widespread support from across disciplinary and political divisions.


• More than 4,000 academics have signed public statements calling on the AHRC to make this change. This statement is endorsed by 30+ learned societies.






PRESS CONTACT:


Name: Dr Thom Brooks


Tel: (0191) 222 5288


Email: thom.brooks@newcastle.ac.uk






We are Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Peer Review College members. We intend to resign from the AHRC Peer Review College if there are no clear steps taken to remove the “Big Society” from the AHRC delivery plan. Our stand is personal as members of the academic community and it does not represent our home institutions.

Professor Grenville G. Astill, Professor of Archaeology, University of Reading

Professor Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford

Professor Stephen Bottoms, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, University of Leeds

Professor Emma Borg, Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading

Dr Thom Brooks, Reader in Political and Legal Philosophy, Newcastle University

The Revd Professor Mark D. Chapman, Vice Principal, Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford

Professor Sarah Colvin, Professor in the Study of Contemporary Germany, University of Birmingham

Dr Peter M. Day, Reader in Archaeological Materials, University of Sheffield

Professor Antony Duff FBA FRSE, Professor of Philosophy, University of Stirling

Professor Steven French, Professor of Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds

Professor David Gillespie, Professor of Russian, University of Bath

Professor Leslie Green, Professor of the Philosophy of Law, University of Oxford

Professor Valerie A. Hall FSA FHEA, Professor Emerita of Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast

Professor Paul L. Halstead, Professor of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor John Harrington, Professor of Law, University of Liverpool

Professor Matti Häyry, Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy of Law, University of Manchester

Professor Nicholas Hewlett, Professor of French Studies, University of Warwick

Professor Maggie Humm, Professor in Humanities, University of East London

Professor Mark Humphries, Professor of Ancient History, Swansea University

Professor Dina Iordanaova, Director of Centre for Film Studies, University of St Andrews

Professor Glynis Jones, Professor of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor Debra Kelly, Professor of French and Francophone Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Westminster
Dr Elizabeth Eva Leach, University Lecturer in Music, University of Oxford

Professor Karen Leeder, Professor of Modern German Literature, University of Oxford

Professor Alison MacLeod, Professor of Contemporary Fiction, University of Chichester

Professor Alexander Miller, Professor of Philosophy, University of Birmingham

Professor Anthony Milton, Professor of History, University of Sheffield

Dr Catherine Moriarty, Principal Research Fellow, University of Brighton

Professor Rosalind O’Hanlon, Professor of Indian History and Culture, University of Oxford

Professor David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy, University of Southampton

Dr Stephen Parkinson, Lecturer in Portuguese Langage and Linguistics, University of Oxford

Dr Paul B. Pettitt FSA, Reader in Palaeolithic Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor Julian Preece, Professor of German, Swansea University

Professor Ritchie Robertson FBA, Taylor Professor of German, University of Oxford

Professor Irit Rogoff, Professor of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Karen Ross, Professor of Media and Public Communication, University of Liverpool

Professor Sean Sayers, Professor of Philosophy, University of Kent, Canterbury

Professor Ricarda Schmidt, Professor in German, University of Exeter

Professor Patrick Stevenson, Professor of German and Linguistic Studies, University of Southampton

Professor Robert Villain, Professor of German, University of Bristol

Professor David Walker, Professor of French, University of Sheffield

Professor Paul Williams, Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy, University of Bristol

Professor Ian Wood, Professor of Early Medieval History, University of Leeds


AHRC Peer Review College members who have resigned already on this issue:


Professor Bob Brecher, Professor of Ethics, University of Brighton

Professor M. M. Lisboa, Professor of Portuguese Literature and Culture, University of Cambridge


UPDATE: Names have been added to original list.

Political campaign slogans have no place in strategic research funding priorities

I have been invited to write for the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog on the controversy surrounding the Arts and Humanities Research Council's decision to include the "Big Society" - a Conservative Party campaign slogan - in its delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities. My essay can be found here and this is an excerpt:

"[. . .] There should be no further delay. The AHRC must act now. There is unprecedented support for change from across the sector that bridges disciplinary and political divisions. Many have supported this campaign because so many of us care deeply about the AHRC. If this campaign does not succeed, the AHRC will risk alienating a great many it should serve. The Guardian has correctly noted recently that my fellow AHRC Peer Review College members are organizing a possible en masse resignationfor next week if there is no clear developments on removing the Big Society from the AHRC delivery plan. This story has also caught the attention of the Shadow Universities Minister who has now taken up the campaign. I can speak for all Peer Review College members that have contacted me about resigning that this is a last resort. This can be avoided and the ball is in the AHRC’s court. I am very hopeful that the unity amongst the academy is now crystal clear and the case for change highly compelling. It is time we come together to face critical times ahead and I have every faith that the AHRC will soon accept this wise change."

The AHRC and Big Society: That Delivery Plan again...

A Blind Thermometer has excellent (as usual) commentary with links on this story here.

A major announcement will be made today at 12 noon (GMT). Leading academics have weighed in to lend support in a new statement that I hope will lead to swift action on this important issue.

UK universities may adopt US-styled GPA system

The Times Higher has the story here and it may surprise to some although a topic of many high table conversations in recent years. The following universities are reported to be considering a switch from degree classifications to the US-styled GPA system: Birmingham, LSE, Nottingham, Sheffield, Warwick, UCL, and York.

It will be interesting to see if these plans move ahead -- and, if they do, if this marks the beginning of the end for the degree classification system.

Thom Brooks joins Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews editorial board

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews is an outstanding online journal I have read (and contributed to) for many years. I warmly encourage others to do the same and I look forward to working with the board.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Major announcment tomorrow on AHRC and Big Society

There will be a major announcement tomorrow. It will concern the decision by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to include several references to the "Big Society" in its delivery plan on strategic research funding priorities. The "Big Society" is a political campaign slogan.

Several highly distinguished members of the AHRC Peer Review College have come forward to offer their resignations en masse by Monday, 27th June if there are no positive developments towards the removal of the "Big Society" in the AHRC delivery plan. This will be a very significant show of support for an important cause that demonstrates the strong desire for a change.

Please contact the AHRC and David Willetts (Universities Minister) to call for this important change now.

Please contact me if you are a member of the AHRC Peer Review College.

Newcastle's The Journal on the AHRC and Big Society

. . . with details here and interviews. (The story runs on page 4, but noted on front page.) An excerpt:

"[. . .]  Prof Brooks said: “Political campaign slogans have no place in strategic delivery plans for organisations such as these. We would have been equally opposed had research been suggested into Labour’s ‘third way’ ideology back in 1997.

"It’s not merely an idea. It’s cemented to this political ideological campaign slogan.

“Its basic principles haven’t even been spelled out as an idea, never mind a white paper.

“We’re not saying people shouldn’t do research on the Big Society, rather that it shouldn’t be a strategic priority.
“I think mass resignation should be a last resort. It’s not something that should be taken lightly but it’s hard to see what else we can do.”

[. . .]  A spokesman for the AHRC said: “At no point do we ever say we’re propagandising it. The whole point of research is to come to something cold. You could get 100 projects critiquing it or 100 saying it’s a brilliant idea. Politics is not what we’re about. It’s just shorthand. [. . .]"

Iain Pears on the AHRC and Big Society

. . . can be found here. A terrific commentary as usual. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The English Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is back in the news once more, attracting more unfavourable and damaging attention for no necessary reason.


There is now a very real possibility that assessors of research proposals will shortly begin to resign en masse to protest against its policies; opposition Labour party politicians are, finally, beginning to badger the government about interfering with research, and the minister in charge of universities, David Willetts, has signalled that he is unsupportive of the Council’s approach.

[. . .] For the government, this is a nuisance it can do without at a time when its policies on Higher Education are mired in controversy. It has already been forced to retreat on a raft of measures – selling forests, prison policy, the National Health Service – and it needs a display of resolve if it is not to be deemed weak-willed and spineless. Higher Education, unfortunately, looks as though it will be the sector called upon to provide that proof.


The government does not need its position weakened by a controversy for which, for once, it is not responsible. The move to back the “Big Society” does indeed seem as though it was little more than a piece of amateur manoeuvring of the sort normally associated with student politics. It was neither necessary, nor required to gain funding – the ESRC won its money without a display of servility -- and it is now a political liability.

So David Willetts signalled as clearly as politicians ever signal anything that he wants the AHRC to close the matter down. In an article the Times Higher Education Supplement at the end of May, he wrote:

“Our commitments on teaching and research also respect the autonomy of universities and have avoided any pernicious temptation to steer the money towards ministers' pet priorities (although the research councils will doubtless want to reflect on the hazards of referring at all to current political slogans!).”

Only the head of a research council could fail to take the meaning in Willetts' remark -- not least because if one of the architects of the "Big Society" can refer to it as a political slogan, it becomes that much more difficult to maintain that it is, in fact, a serious subject for academic research. [. . .]"

"HIstorian on the Edge" on the AHRC and Big Society

A helpful blog post found here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Calling on AHRC Peer Review College members!

Further to recent articles in The Guardian, I am collecting names of AHRC Peer Review College members who are willing to join me and many others in resigning if no action is taken to remove the "Big Society" from the AHRC Delivery Plan.

The facts:
* The AHRC Delivery Plan spells out its strategic research funding priorities. The plan mentions the "Big Society" several times.
* About 4,000 academics signed petitions calling for removal of the "Big Society" from this plan.
* More than 30 learned societies agreed a joint statement calling for its removal.
* The University and College Union (UCU) and Shadow Universities Minister, Gareth Thomas MP, have offered support to this campaign.
* The Rt Hon David Willetts has recently written about the "hazard" of including political campaign slogans in research council delivery plans.

Support is widespread from across disciplines and political divisions. Supporters include Fellows of the British Academy and Royal Society.

I can be contacted here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Labour steps into AHRC and "Big Society" row

Details here from The Guardian in a new development as this issue receives greater momentum.

UPDATE: I am pleased to say that ResearchResearch has more the story here.

Brooks, Hegel's Political Philosophy reviewed

Lydia Moland has published a wonderful review of my Hegel's Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right here. The book can be found in the US, UK and elsewhere. She is quite right that I have hoped to inspire others to develop the systematic reading of Hegel's texts much further -- and not only of the Philosophy of Right.

National awards for Newcastle University

Details here. Newcastle's Estates team and library win awards from the Times Higher. Well done and highly deserved!

The AHRC and Big Society (again)

As we await publication of the so-called "Big Society" white paper from the government, the Guardian reports today about the campaign to remove the "Big Society" from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) delivery plan. The story can be found here and it includes an interview with the AHRC Chief Executive. A brief excerpt:

"[. . .] Rylance agreed with critics that the big society was "a government policy" but said that it included "a range of activities" from health to the arts which left room for many different projects and angles for research.


"People have said this is about promoting the big society. It is categorically not about that. It is indicating an area of research which will fund individuals who may well come up and be critical of it. We don't forecast outcomes of these things," Rylance said.

However Rylance said that removing all six references to the big society from the AHRC's strategy would have to involve a renegotiation with government.

"That is the document they [the Department for Business] also published. They are our funders and they fund us as against a delivery plan. So we'd have to look at ways with government of revising [it] … but this is not an intention." [. . .]"

UPDATE: ResearchResearch has more on this story here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Brooks Blog in top 10 philosophy blogs

Details here and my most sincere thanks to Brian Leiter for including the blog in the poll!

Jenny Saul rocks

. . . and she has won the Distinguished Woman Philosopher of the year. (Details here.) Very well deserved news and I happily supported her nomination...and very glad I did. It's worth noting too that she was an outstanding director of graduate studies at Sheffield when I was a PhD student and this had a real impact on many of us, not least me. Well done and great news!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A university education is about more than skills

. . . or so argues Macquarie's VC in an op-ed found here in the Times Higher. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Books in Philosophy

I highly recommend that readers check out the New Books in Philosophy website. It will contain interviews with authors of recent books in philosophy. A major resource and fantastic project. I will use it regularly and invite others to join me. It is led by Carrie Figdor and Robert Talisse.

Political philosophy goes global

The story is here at the New York Times concerning Michael Sandel (Harvard professor and editorial board member of the Journal of Moral Philosophy).

The idea of reciprocity

I ask for reader suggestions. I have been interested in the idea of reciprocity in Rawls's writings, especially in the relation between reciprocity and the ideas of self-worth and social identity. There does not seem to be much with a central focus on this topic and I was wondering if readers had suggestions for where else I should look. I am completing a paper on the topic and will post this when it is more complete.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

US universities in alleged African "land grabs"

Details from The Guardian here.

JOB: 50 new posts at Birmingham!

This announcement just in:

"The University of Birmingham has announced its 'Birmingham Fellowships' scheme. The aim is to recruit 50 top-class postdoctoral researchers to 5-year fellowships, with a permanent position at the end of it subject to satisfactory performance. Details of the scheme are at www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/excellence/fellows/about/index.aspx, and the deadline for applications is 1 September.

While applications from any area of research will be considered, candidates *may* stand a better chance of success if they fall within one of the 'priority areas' identified by the University (click on 'Priority areas'). Of these areas, two are relevant to current research in the Philosophy Department, namely 'Health, Wellbeing and Ethics' and 'Security and Conflict'. In addition, candidates with portable postdoctoral funding (e.g. a BA Postdoc) already in place for at least some of the duration of the Fellowship may stand a higher chance of success. (In both cases, I say 'may' because I genuinely don't know!)

If you are a post-PhD philosopher with an outstanding research record (for your 'academic age') already in place, please do consider applying."

Liberal Democrats on higher education: cut costs by cutting salaries

Details here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Queen's Honours List

. . . can be found here. Notable honours include:

* A knighthood for Steven Smith, VC of Exeter and former politics professor
* CBE for Christopher Hood (All Souls, Oxford)
* Nirmala Rao (SOAS)

Better than nothing for Politics and Social Science, but still nothing in Philosophy (again)...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rawls is alive and well in Tilburg

. . . or at least at a fantastic workshop on his idea of property-owning democracy. I will be back in the UK tomorrow and expect more posts shortly including a new paper on Rawls.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Warden of New College, Oxford on Grayling's New College for the Humanities

Details here from The Guardian. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The warden of Oxford's New College has asked AC Grayling to alter the name of his £18,000-a-year New College for the Humanities, saying he fears the project involving 14 celebrity academics could damage the reputation of the 632-year-old institution.

Curtis Price, the head of house for New College at Oxford University, where the philosophers Isaiah Berlin and AJ Ayer once taught, said he was "not very pleased" by the name, widely abbreviated to New College in the press and online. "It is an ill-chosen title for this venture in Bloomsbury, because it is setting out to provide an education similar to a college in Oxford or Cambridge," said Price. "I am trying to persuade him to use another name, and I understand he is considering other names," Price said.

Price said he was worried that "if this [college] is a farce, a joke, then our name is tainted". He added: "I can't think of any reason in the world why anyone who could pay £9,000 and come here [to New College, Oxford] and enjoy a further £9,000 subsidy, would rather go to the New College of the Humanities and pay £18,000." He added that his colleagues were also concerned that it was "a poor choice of name" and he indicated that Grayling had floated the names of Bloomsbury College or Erasmus College as alternatives, but that he did not expect the professor to alter the existing name as it had been registered at Companies House and with the Charity Commission. Grayling has declined to comment on his contact with Price. [. . .]"

The article also states: "Peter Singer, the professor and philosopher, confirmed that he had only agreed to take one lecture in the first year, but said he might do more."

Sunday, June 05, 2011

New College of the Humanities

. . . is launched in the UK. Details here. The BBC reports:

"[. . .]  A new British college aiming to rival Oxford and Cambridge has been launched by leading academics. New College of the Humanities will give a high-quality education to "gifted" undergraduates and a degree from the University of London, creators say. The privately-owned London-based college will open in September 2012 and is planning to charge fees of £18,000. The 14 professors involved include biologist Richard Dawkins and historian Sir David Cannadine. Professor Dawkins is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, as well as being the author of The God Delusion, and Sir David is a professor at Princeton University in the United States.

Based in Bloomsbury, central London, the new college will offer eight undergraduate humanities degrees taught by some of the world's most prominent intellectuals, officials said. Degrees cover five subject areas - law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy. Students will also take three "intellectual skills" modules in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and applied ethics - which will result in them being awarded a Diploma of New College in addition to a University of London degree, making a combined award of BA Hons (London) DNC. [. . .]"

This is the first I have heard about this college. Have others heard about it previously?

UPDATE: A look at the "professoriate" of the "14 highly distinguished academics" that have established the NCH has only one woman member. See here.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Death: Its Meaning, Morality, and Metaphysics conference

Death: Its Meaning, Morality, and Metaphysics conference

July 6-7, 2011

Politics Building, Newcastle University

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/niassh/deathconference.htm

Keynote speakers:

Ben Bradley (Syracuse)
Mary Midgley (Newcastle)

Speakers include:

Timo Airaksinen (Helsinki)
William Baird (Georgia State)
Kathy Behrendt (Wilfrid Laurier)
Stephan Blatti (Memphis)
Ben Curtis (Nottingham)
Jon Garthoff (Northwestern)
Geoffrey Scarre (Durham)
Saul Smilansky (Haifa)
Alex Voorhoeve (LSE)
Aaron Wolff (Syracuse)


The conference is sponsored by the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics at Georgia State University and the Newcastle Ethics, Legal, and Political Philosophy (NELPP) Group at Newcastle University. Any questions should be directed to me.

A message for college graduates

. . . from David Brooks (no relation) in the New York Times here ("It's Not About You"). An excerpt:

"[. . .] But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.
More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears.

[. . .] The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself. [. . .]"

Martha Nussbaum reading group

. . . hosted by (US) Association for Political Thought here. The focus will be on her Not for Profit concerning the the place of humanities in higher education and the wider society.

Tax lower under Obama than Reagan

Fact. Details here.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Live chat on academia and online media

Join the online discussion here at The Guardian where I'm on a panel exploring academia and online media.

Waiting for the 'Big Society'...

We continue to wait for the government to publish its long awaited White Paper on the 'Big Society'. Today, we learn that this will be delayed further. Details here.

This is an important development. The fact we still have no White Paper on the Big Society has not stopped the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from controversially including several references to the Big Society in its delivery plan. The delivery plan spells out strategic research funding priorities. It is incredible that the Big Society would be considered part of a research funding priority strategy before publication of the White Paper.

"Time's up for 'Big Society'"

My letter to the Times Higher can be found here. In full:

"Nearly 4,000 signatories have backed a petition calling on the Arts and Humanities Research Council to remove the "Big Society" from its Delivery Plan for strategic research funding with immediate effect. More than 30 learned societies agreed a joint statement supporting the aims of the petition: political campaign slogans should have no place in research council delivery plans.


Now David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has warned that "research councils will doubtless want to reflect on the hazards of referring at all to current political slogans!" ("'We cannot be certain about every step. But the journey will be worthwhile'", 26 May). The more Rick Rylance, the Ahrc chief executive, has tried to wish this issue away in recent weeks, the more this unprecedented opposition has grown.

It is now clear that the AHRC has lost the argument. Any further refusal to remove references to the Big Society from its Delivery Plan will only continue to foster a growing lack of confidence in its leadership on an issue of great concern for many in the sector. The time for action is now so that we may best rebuild trust to face the daunting challenges ahead.

Thom Brooks, Newcastle University, Member, AHRC Peer Review College"

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Thom Brooks (ed.), New Waves in Ethics


I am delighted to report that New Waves in Ethics is now published! It may be found on Amazon dot com and Amazon dot co dot uk (and elsewhere). The blurb:

"New Waves in Ethics brings together the leading future figures in ethics broadly construed, with essays ranging from meta-ethics and normative ethics to applied ethics and political philosophy. Topics include new work on experimental philosophy, feminism, and global justice, incorporating perspectives informed from historical and contemporary approaches alike. An ideal collection for anyone interested in the most important debates in ethics and political philosophy, as well as those with an interest in the latest significant controbutions from the leading new generation of philosophers working in ethics."

The chapters:

Thom Brooks - "Introduction"

Leonard Kahn - "Conflict, Regret, and Modern Moral Philosophy"

Thom Brooks - "What Did the British Idealists Ever Do for Us?"

Chrisoula Andreou - "Choosing Well: Value Pluralism and Patterns of Choice"

Danielle Bromwich - "How Not to Argue for Motivational Internalism"

Iwao Hirose - "Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism"

S. Matthew Liao - "Bias and Reasoning: Haidt's Theory of Moral Judgment"

Mari Mikkola - "Dehumanization"

Christian Miller - "Guilt, Embarrassment, and the Existence of Character Traits"

Gerhard Overland - "Letting Die by Contract"

Lisa Fuller - "Knowing Their Own Good: Preferences and Liberty in Global Ethics"

Nicole Hassoun - "Making Free Trade Fair"

Ian O'Flynn - "Taking the Broader View: The Public Interest, Deliberative Democracy and Political Ethics"

Jonathan Webber - "Climate Change and Public Moral Reasoning"

UCU backs petition campaign: remove the "Big Society" from the AHRC delivery plan

Readers will already know of the petitions launched to remove the "Big Society" from the AHRC delivery plan. I am delighted to announce a further development: the University and College Union (UCU) has passed a motion in support of the aims of our petition. Research Fortnightly reports here:

"[. . .] Another topic on the congress agenda was that of academic freedom and democracy.The congress backed a motion condemning political interference in the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s research priorities. It follows a row over inclusion of the government’s 'Big Society' slogan in the council’s delivery plan, published in December. The motion says such references “pose a very serious threat to academic freedom” and calls on the HEC to launch a high-profile campaign on the subject." [. . .]"

Nearly 4,000 academics have supported this campaign followed by 30+ learned societies. The universities minister, David Willetts, also appears supportive. Now the UCU has joined the campaign. The AHRC has clearly "lost the argument" and should act appropriately without further delay.

The Denis MacShane and the LSE reading list affair

The Association of Political Thought (UK) has spoken out here. The statement reads:

"During the debate on Human Trafficking on 18 May 2011 (Hansard Col 94WH) Denis MacShane MP, quoting from the list of essay titles for an academic political theory course at the London School of Economics, accused a distinguished professor, Anne Phillips FBA, of being unable to tell the difference between waged work and prostitution, and of filling the minds of students ‘with poisonous drivel’. Fiona McTaggart MP agreed, accusing Phillips of holding ‘frankly nauseating views on that issue’.


The ineptitude of this exchange – which is now forever on the official record – is extraordinary. Students are asked why we should distinguish between the sale of one’s labour and the sale or letting of one’s body. That condones neither the latter nor the former. It encourages students to reflect on how to draw an important line between things appropriate and things inappropriate for market exchange. Asking such questions, far from being ‘nauseating’, is central to public debate about policy and legislation. If Members of Parliament cannot tell the difference between an essay problem and an assertion of belief how can we trust them to legislate effectively?

Parliamentary debate is a cornerstone of our constitution and political culture. However, using the privilege of a Parliamentary platform ignorantly to traduce the reputation of a teacher of political theory is a dereliction of office.

Members and supporters of the Britain and Ireland Association for Political Thought:

David Owen, Southampton University
Michael Freeden, University of Oxford
Christopher Brooke, University of Cambridge
Marc Stears, University of Oxford
Simon Caney, University of Oxford
Stuart White, University of Oxford
Aletta Norval, University of Essex
Iain Hampsher-Monk, University of Exeter
Richard Bellamy, University College London
Thom Brooks, University of Newcastle
Raia Prokhovnik, Open University
Chris Brown, London School of Economics
Bonnie Honig, Northwestern University, Chicago, USA
Nicola Lacey, University of Oxford
Elizabeth Frazer, University of Oxford
Martin O’Neill, University of York
Tim Hayward, University of Edinburgh
Mark Philp, University of Oxford
Albert Weale, University College London
Kimberly Hutchings, London School of Economics
Kenneth Macdonald, University of Oxford
Chandran Kukathas, London School of Economics
Hillel Steiner, Universities of Manchester and Salford
Christopher Bertram, University of Bristol
Paul Kelly, London School of Economics
Jules Townshend, Manchester Metropolitan University
Emily Jackson, London School of Economics
Gary Browning, Oxford Brookes University
Adrian Blau, University of Manchester
Russell Keat, University of Edinburgh
David Leopold, University of Oxford
Katrin Flikschuh, London School of Economics
Cecile Laborde, University College London
Engin Isin, Open University
Dario Castiglione, University of Exeter
Clare Hemmings, London School of Economics
Christian List, London School of Economics
Evangelia Sembou, Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom
David Miller, University of Oxford
Wendy Stokes, London Metropolitan University
Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University
Joni Lovenduski, Birkbeck University of London
Moya Lloyd, Loughborough University
Cecile Fabre, University of Oxford
Adam Swift, University of Oxford
Vincent Geoghegan, Queens University Belfast
Jennifer Hornsby, Birkbeck University of London
Lynn Dobson, University of Edinburgh
David Howarth, University of Essex
Reidar Maliks, University of Oxford
Nicholas Southwood, University of Oxford
Jeremy Jennings, Queen Mary’s University of London"

One of the many moments I am glad to be a part of the APT as Secretary. Let us hope the message is heard.

UPDATE: The Times Higher has published this letter now here.