Dear Vice Chancellor,
As we are all acutely aware, the government is shortly to announce unprecedented cuts in funding for universities. If the rumours are to be believed, all public funding for degrees in the humanities is to be withdrawn. I think we can all condemn this savage act of philistinism; if nothing else, where are the future life-partners for engineers and chemists to come from, if not from an on-site pool of young humanities students? I have tried not to "gender" this comment, as the social scientists would say, but I think we're probably on the same page here.
It strikes me that the underlying issue is simply one of cost. Although, in material resource terms, the humanities are relatively cheap -- how much can a whiteboard and a pack of coloured pens cost? -- an awful lot of useful money is being invested in staff. Now, I think it is well established that research in the humanities is, in terms of outcomes, verging on the pointless. Does the world really need a fresh perspective on Milton when, if the bibliometric evidence is reliable, the previous 1753.6 perspectives have had an impact so negligible as to be unmeasurable?
A rhetorical question, obviously. That argument has been
We talk of spoon feeding. Increasingly, undergraduates are being taught by student-friendly pedagogical techniques, such as multiple-choice and scratch card. Why couldn't we take that approach one step further: could not degrees be dispensed in pill form? Obviously this would be impossible in information-intense subjects, like Serious Science, but the humanities?
A recent neurological study has shown that the impact of an English or History degree on the 20-year-old brain is indistinguishable from a placebo effect (using a controlled comparison with degrees in hairdressing and pet psychology offered by rival institutions). Why not go the whole hog, and offer a humanities placebo pill, delivered in three equally-spaced ceremonial doses?
A suitable stock of colourful sugar pills would not represent a major investment, and a nurse or two could be recruited on a purely seasonal basis to accompany your worthy self on the awarding platform. That is, assuming your presence is still considered necessary; perhaps using the facilities of the Medical Centre would represent savings in terms of marquee hire, etc.? A spoonful of sugar, a glass of water, and everybody's happy.
It's a win-win!
Kind regards, etc.