On blogging, community and irrelevance

I’ve been in post at King’s for exactly a year, so I thought I’d celebrate my first anniversary by setting up a blog. I shall update it regularly to keep colleagues, friends and anyone interested enough to read it informed about work I’m doing on behalf of the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, issues I’m reflecting on, debates I’m contributing to and so on. (For more information, go to the ‘About’ page.)

My first year in post has been extraordinarily busy, and I’m aware that I’m still discovering day by the day the full range of what we do as a Faculty in terms of education and research. But a couple of things in the past week have reminded me about what lies at the heart of everything we do.

Last Wednesday I was delighted to attend our winter graduation ceremonies at the Barbican, where I presented a couple of hundred students for their degrees – undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from right across our Faculty. Sporting their Dame Vivienne Westwood gowns, the excited graduands stepped onto the stage and joined my colleagues and me in creating a riot of academic colour. The gowns and hoods of different styles and hues show off people’s different academic associations and qualifications – and so they celebrate the glorious diversity of the worldwide community of scholars of which the latest graduates are the newest members. For some, the pomp and ceremony of graduation are so much froth and outdated formality; for me, they’re a crucial sign of the shared endeavour and collective achievement that graduation properly underscores. At King’s our students are at the centre of what we do: undergraduates and postgraduates alike are fully integrated into our intellectual life, with education and research mutually benefiting and reinforcing each other.

Our students are the point, then, but what’s the point of what they do? The day before graduation last week I was interviewed for In Touch, a magazine aimed at former students of King’s, and one thing the interviewer focused on was precisely how we defend the value of a degree in the Arts & Humanities. My view is that the value of such a degree is best defined, not in the purely economic terms that the debate is so often framed in, but in terms of its intellectual, non-vocational, non-utilitarian benefits – benefits that, not coincidentally, make Humanities graduates highly employable. For it is precisely and paradoxically the apparent uselessness of a Humanities degree – or at least its resistance to being pinned down to any immediate or particular utility – that makes it so highly prized. Our graduates leave us with rich imaginations, intellectual agility and a critical flexibility that makes them both more aware of others and more self-aware. A Humanities degree from King’s helps people to become who they are: it’s less about how to make a living and more about how to live – and how to live well. If the growing pressure on university educators to be ‘relevant’ means our being expected to deal in what students are already familiar with when they come to King’s, then I’m proud to say that we’re in the business of the unfamiliar, the horizon-expanding, the life-changing. And if that’s ‘irrelevant’, then so be it.

5 thoughts on “On blogging, community and irrelevance

  1. With respect, this seems a fairly woolly defence of the humanities. As a French studies KCL alumnus of the 70s, I firmly believe that one of the key objectives of any graduate should be to set off into the wider world with a clear idea of what you want to do with your life and how you can achieve your goals. You should fairly expect that your university will help steer you in the appropriate direction and equip you with some basic tools for finding your way. Just setting off as a well-rounded person is fine, but not enough. Some people are entrepreneurial by nature, most are not. By all means have a go at different things until you find something that satisfies, but being clear in your mind early in life about what you want is a great advantage.

  2. Here, here. The day we are forced to tailor everything to the job market and make every degree strictly utilitarian, the poorer we personally, and the nation as a whole, shall be, intellectually and spiritually.

  3. Well done, Russell. Keep writing. The expansion of students’ imagination and critical faculties is worth all the technical learning in the world.

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