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May 24, 2005
In last week's Times Higher (May 13th) the THES commissioned Terry Pratchett to write a short piece imagining what would happen if the University from his Discworld series of novels were to be threatened with an RAE exercise (or its Discworld equivalent), or if it were to have targets set for its "non-traditional intake" of students.
Since the Discworld novels are as much satire as they are fantasy, this is fruitful ground, and Mr Pratchett doesn't disappoint.
On research papers:-
"I've seen some of those Braseneck papers." said Ridcully. "They've got titles like 'Diothumatic Aspects of Cheese in Mice', or possibly it was mice in cheese. Or maybe chess."
"And what was it about?" said the Dean.
"Oh, I don't think it was for reading. It was for having written." said the Arch-chancellor.
On what academics do:-
"Explain to (the inspector) that we don't do things, Stibbons." said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. "We are academics."
"Interesting idea, though," said Ridcully, winking at Stibbons. "What do you do, Senior Wrangler?"
A hunted look crossed the Senior Wrangler's face. "Well, er." he said, clearing his throat. "The post of Senior Wrangler at Unseen University is, most unusually —"
"Yes, but what do you do? And have you been doing more of it in the past six months than in the previous six?"
"Well, if we're asking that kind of question, Arch-chancellor, what do you do?" said the Dean, testily.
"I administer, Dean." said Ridcully, calmly.
"Then we must be doing something, otherwise you'd have nothing to administrate."
"That coment strikes at the very heart of the bureaucratic principle, Dean, and I shall ignore it."
"Firstly," said Stibbons, "Mr Pessimal wants to know what we do here."
"Do? We are the premier college of magic!" said Ridcully.
"But do we teach? As such?"
"Of course, if no alternative presents itself." said the Dean. "We show 'em where the library is, give 'em a few chats and graduate the survivors. If they run into any problems, my door is always metaphorically open."
"Metaphorically, sir?" said Stibbons.
"Yes." said the Dean. "But technically, of course, it's locked. Good grief, you don't want 'em just turning up."
If your department keeps copies of the THES around, you enjoy Terry Pratchett's writing, and you're even a little bit cynical about the RAE, target numbers or ethic committees (and let's face it, if you're not cynical about at least one of those then where have you been?) then this is well worth a read. Sadly, I can't find it online, otherwise I'd link to the whole article.