It’s that Delivery Plan again!

Iain Pears has said very nearly all there is to say on this. Thom Brooks’ email suggesting things to do about it is reproduced here. Not much to add, really, except…

The story so far, again, in brief, and with links:

(a) The AHRC’s Delivery Plan is worded so as to give a clear and open endorsement of a Conservative Party electoral slogan.

(b) There’s no good evidence that the Conservatives, or the present Coalition Government, asked for this to happen.

(c) David Willetts appears to find the AHRC’s conduct a bit silly, and evidently wishes it hadn’t done what it did.

(d) As well he might. This has become a stick to beat the Government with.

(e) It is a mystery what the AHRC staff responsible thought they were up to. Neither the ESRC nor any of the other Research Councils has ever tried anything similar.

(f) The AHRC, usually through its Chief Executive, Rick Rylance, keeps contending that it has not done anything misjudged or out of the ordinary. Professor Rylance has denied that the Plan says what (on my and almost everyone else’s reading of its straightforward English-language phrasing) it says.

(g) The arts and humanities research community is very angry. Several thousand individuals and 32 learned societies have complained.

(h) Professor Rylance has most recently stated, presumably correctly, that revising the Plan would involve consultation with Government, but that “this is not an intention.”  He does not specify whose intention it is not, or why not.

(i) Mass resignations from the AHRC Peer Review College are looming; Rick Rylance’s credibility has, alas, become the story.

If they didn’t mean the Delivery Plan to say what the Delivery Plan says, why don’t they just change the Delivery Plan?

The AHRC’s most recent statements hint that we should accept there’s some practical reason (beyond embarrassment). They don’t say what. We might most naturally think of the bureaucratic cost of replanning, revalidation, reprinting, distribution. Quick thought-experiment, though:

Scenario 1. What if somebody were suddenly to notice that the Delivery Plan libels the Pope? Recalling and revising must at least be practically possible. If it isn’t, that’s a major failing in its own right. (When I started typing this, I was going for a reductio, but… you know… could anybody with a bit of spare time please do a quick run over it with an eye to papal business? Just in case…)

Scenario 2. What if somebody notices that the Delivery Plan contains statements contrary to fact? (Not a major thought-experiment, this one. Section 2.10.1 of the Plan discusses the AHRC’s relationship to “other government departments”. Far from being a government department, the AHRC is a non-departmental public body or, to use the picturesque term, quango. The distinction, though not sexually stimulating, is significant here. NDPBs operate at arm’s length: they are accountable to, but work independently of, government. Unless they don’t. But they’ve gone wrong if they don’t.)

In this second scenario, the Plan is not a Bad Plan: it is a Plan With A Mistake In It. There is no prejudice or shame in revising the document. Do released copies have to be recalled, as they would in the papal case? I’d say not. Publicise the correction and change the PDF on your website, and contact anyone who’s sufficiently sophisticated to be keeping a Copy Of Record on paper, like the archivists always tell you to. Job done.

Scenario 3. What if somebody notices that the Delivery Plan does not adequately convey the intended sense? If we insist on accepting that nothing shifty is going on, then we should presumably conclude from Professor Rylance’s April comments that this has actually happened. What would be a reasonable response? As for Scenario 2, I think. I, for one, would say no more about it.

Scenario Omega (in numbering, as in life, we should expect the unexpected). What if one of the parties you’re supposed to mediate between is just downright flipping appalled by part of the Plan? Even if you don’t have to worry about the other party (who has done no more than blink at it and say “Really?”), I will concede that you’ve got a more complex job on your hands, because it’s not immediately evident what the revision ought to look like, or who gets a say in deciding that.

But I think, even in the Omega Scenario, your starting offer has got to be “Here’s what we might be able to do” – as opposed to “We’re right, and you haven’t formulated an opinion so you can’t disagree.” I am struggling to understand how so many recent official statements in the name of the AHRC can possibly have come to be worded as they are, except on the supposition that the Council employs a full-time Compliance Officer to ensure maximum offence to humanities academics.

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One Response to It’s that Delivery Plan again!

  1. Thom Brooks says:

    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 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. 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
    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 Paul McDonald, Professor of Cinema, University of Portsmouth
    Professor Alexander Miller, Professor of Philosophy, University of Birmingham
    Prof¬essor 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
    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 David Skilton, Research Professor in English, Cardiff University
    Professor Patrick Stevenson, Professor of German and Linguistic Studies, University of Southampton
    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

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