According to an inconspicuous notice posted outside the Senate House, backed up by this link, Lord Sainsbury has been nominated to serve as the new Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (its honorary top man, in other words). Presumably this is because our beloved Prince Philip is getting on a bit, and it'd be embarrassing to have him die on the job. More interesting, however, is the following:
"This nomination is now before the University's Senate for approval. Fifty members of the Senate may nominate an alternative candidate."
What exactly is the Senate, then? When I looked into this I was surprised to find that it's us, or at least those of us in possession of the rather silly Cambridge MA or another masters degree or doctorate. Yes, that's right: if fifty of us can get together by 17th June to nominate an alternative candidate, there will, as I understand it, be an actual election to determine the new Chancellor.
Now obviously for practical purposes it doesn't matter a jot who's the Chancellor; it's not as if Prince Philip actually does anything in the role, despite the website's insistence that he has "important statutory duties". But the selection of billionaire David, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, sends a clear political message: by choosing a lifelong money-man and politician, who joined the family firm after failing to get the grades to become a scientist, the University would be aligning itself with government and industry, and with the 'new market', rather than with the interests of its constituents in education and academia. Through his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Sainsbury (former chairman of Sainsbury's) has donated vast amounts of money to various causes. And he seems to be a nicer guy than his dictatorial cousin JD Sainsbury. But his appointment would be a statement to the effect that a culture of philanthropy, where the super-rich give to the poor, is a sustainable and appropriate model for higher education funding. It isn't. As Jeremy Prynne puts it (in the context of a slightly different cause),
All aspects considered, it seems to me now a critical moment to raise a voice, along with Oxford, against this constantly sliding and destructive tendency degrading a coherent policy for Higher Education; university funding cuts, massively increased student fees, major invasion of university self-government (admission policies, etc), together with the ever more proclaimed ‘market model’ for the whole sector. Are we also to end up with a new market-style Chancellor? These things are massively confused and massively wrong, and in default of any more intelligent and joined-up planning they are current government policy.So an alternative candidate is needed, one who sends the opposite message. Moreover, it would be relatively easy to nominate such a candidate. The question is: who should it be? As I see it, it should be a public figure who's shown support for the general principles of the Defend Education campaign, and in particular opposes the marketization of higher education and research. Any ideas?