Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Axeing the humanities

Leiter Reports: A Philosophy blog has an update on the threatened closure of the Chair of Palaeography at King's College London, which I blogged about last month. He quotes from an article by Iain Pears pointing out that expenditure on senior management salaries at King's has increased massively over the last few years, and a modest cut in the administrative budget would be enough to save the Chair of Palaeography, and fund an entire department of palaeographers.
The average vice-chancellor now earns nearly three times as much as a professor, much more than the prime minister and more than the average private sector chief executive. The Principal of King’s, Rick Trainor, had a pay package which rose to £312,000 in 2008/9 from £292,000 the year before and £250,000 in 2006/7. His predecessor made do on £186,000 in 2002. While one person at King’s earned more than £150,000 in 2001/2, this had risen to 79 in 2009.

Keeping palaeography alive by cutting back on the generosity to senior staff does not appear to be an option for discussion, although reducing Professor Trainor’s package to a mere quarter of a million would help out, and a 5 per cent cut in take-home pay for the top 79 earners would produce more than a million pounds, enough for several departments of palaeographers.
Why does this matter? Because humanities subjects (including archaeology, history, palaeography and languages) are regarded by university senior management as merely ornamental and not directly contributing to the economy, and therefore surplus to requirements. We must resist this utilitarian view, as it impoverishes the meaning and purpose of education.

Palaeography is the study of ancient handwriting and the practice of deciphering and reading historical manuscripts. Imagine if no-one was able to read Magna Carta, or the Declaration of Arbroath, or other founding documents of our culture. Imagine if a new manuscript was discovered, and no-one could read it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you guys have the same problem we do over here - a serious need to trim some fat.

"Directly" can be a pretty flexible concept. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Even if humanities don't contribute directly to the economy, I suggest they try eliminating everything that doesn't contribute directly, and see how long it takes for the economy to feel the effects.

Maybe they should look at a little pay shave as contributing directly to the economy?

Yewtree said...

Exactly. The article is very clear that the senior management team and the VC's pay at King's has increased massively.