Exeter University .... SUCCESS, AMBITION, ENERGY & the Class. Ass.
I am just this minute back from the annual Classical Association conference in Exeter -- where, as I was reminded almost as soon as I walked in, the conference had last been in 1994. I ought to have been etched in the memory as I did a double act at that conference with Peter Wiseman, discussing his theories about theatricality in Roman culture. I was a pretty junior squit in those days and I recall that, after I had had my say, some elderly gent in the audience got up and asked me how I had the temerity to question the accuracy of some of the Prof's footnotes. The Prof kindly rescued me by saying that maybe some of his footnotes were susceptible to questioning....
I also remember that I only just made it to the debate at all, as it was the day that the son had (then very fashionable) grommets put in his ears. I waited till he had woken up for the anaesthetic, was clearly alive, and then jumped into a train that made it with a few minutes to spare (all the journey wondering if I really did have my priorities quite right).
Anyway the campus at Exeter hasn't changed much in the 18 years and still has those fantastic views. The only blot on the landscape are the motivational banners festooned around the place, saying things like SUCCESS, AMBITION, ENERGY etc etc. And the entrance to the campus was marked by a notice saying "Creating a world-class University together". It wasn't exactly clear who these were meant FOR. were they aimed at the students (you're late with your essay, and are then spurred into action by that word SUCCESS). Or were they to impress the outsiders and donors (in which case the implication that the Uni of Exeter is not already a "world-class University" seems ill-advised... And why the emphasis on "together"? Has anyone ever supposed that world class universities are one-(wo)man operations?).
What always puzzles me about things like this is how anyone manages to go through with the scheme of actually putting them up. I can see how it can seem quite a clever idea down the pub one night. But when you get into the office the next morning and start writing down your list of words, and getting a quote from the local banner maker.... well, doesn't the inner "delete button" come into action? And, besides, how can you possibly hang them round your campus, without knowing that one day you're going to have to take them down? And what would that say about your commitment to all those thrusting virtues? ("What are you doing today Doug?" "Taking the SUCCESS banner down?")
Certainly, the damn banners weren't responsible for the SUCCESS, ENERGY, and AMBITION of the Class Ass conference. For which congratulations all round to the organisers for a really great job.
I attended rather less of it than I'd hoped. Plan A had been to go down on Wednesday, decamp briefly and return for Friday. But Wednesday turned into a pipe dream, and then I discovered that there were no papers on Friday afternoon (it was excursion time). So all I heard was Peter Stothard's presidential address, nicely referencing back to Colin Haycraft's presidential address in 1994 (and to Haycraft's earlier party in 1987, which he thrown to celebrate the bi-centenary of the publication of Gibbon's Decline and Fall -- Haycraft himself memorably impersonating Gibbon).
And then there was the conference dinner (at which Will Griffiths, pic above, was presented with the Classical Association prize for all his work with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project). And the post dinner prolonged drinking bout, or what would be called "networking" in banner-speak (making up for Lenten abstinence good and proper)... before tumbling into the train back home.
It was the biggest Classical Association conference ever, they said, with almost 500 attendees. All those early 20th-century classicists who set the association up because they were afraid that Classics was dying would have been hugely cheered.