Back on the blog:red carpets and alienation – some thoughts from graduation season

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged so I thought I better get back on the wagon as they say.  The past couple of weeks have been consumed with finishing the book I am writing with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnson but our manuscript is submitted now and I can escape from academese back to the much more comfortable territory of blogging.

The title of our book is “The digital university, the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice”. I don’t want to create a #spoileralert but a large part of the book is concerned with developing more approaches based on critical pedagogy and open education to counter the current neoliberal narrative of managerialism that is all too prevalent in HE today.

Writing the book has been challenging, cathartic, at times inspirational, at times depressing. However this week there has been a bit more cheer in the air as it is graduation week here at my university. The week began with some real excitement as Annie Lennox (yes, the Annie Lennox) was installed as our new Chancellor, and our first female Chancellor.  The installation ceremony was actually pretty fantastic in terms of gender representation. Our new Chancellor,  Nicola Sturgeon (our first female Scottish First Minister), Jackie Kay (our national makar) and Rachel Simpson (the current President of our Students Association) all spoke very eloquently.

It has been lovely to see all our new graduates with their families filling up the campus everyday.  It’s been sunny here  too which makes it even nicer for everyone.  Seeing the crowds in their gowns and glad rags makes me glad to be working in HE, despite some of the depressing trends I’ve been writing about – particularly around the student as consumer and the overall worth, measurements and value of a degree.  This combined with the even more depressing trends I see in our world today where right wing extremism around immigration, race, gender, human rights are becoming normalised by the leader of the so called free world.   This is not the kind of leadership and world I (and I’m sure you, dear reader) want any graduates or young person to be part of.

As part of our research for the book we revisited a very fine (some may even argue one of the finest)  speech from Jimmy Reid when he was installed as Rector of Glasgow University in 1972.  You can read the full text here.  It’s called Alienation and almost 50 years on from when it was written it is still very relevant. Back then we were in an economic crisis, there was a huge debate about joining the European Union, the Tories clinging onto power.  The economics may have skewed slightly, but the debates about Europe are much the same. Crucially in the present day we know many more young people wanted (and still want)  to remain in the EU.  Their opportunities are being alienated by a group of egotistically politicians who have no plans, just bland bog roll rhetoric.  How many unwritten blog posts in my head over the past year do I wish had this as their opening.

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated from society . . .what  I believe to be true is that is is more widespread today more pervasive than ever before.

This passage is also still apt not just for new graduates but for us, particularly in terms of the politics of the moment coming from our Westminster overlords.

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

Still on a sunny day we can instagram it all away. But I’d like to think that Jimmy would agree with me that if we can install a red carpet for our new Chancellor we should keep it on campus for the rest of the week for all our graduates too.



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