The power of the valedictory lecture
There is in the university world a new genre: the valedictory lecture given when you retire from your chair, to balance the inaugural lecture when you take it up. The first one I heard was that of Myles Burnyeat (when he retired from the Chair of Ancient Philosophy in Cambridge) -- that was years back, and he had never given an inaugural, so it was a kind of subsitute.
Recently I heard an elegant valedictory from my colleague Paul Cartledge (from the Leventis Chair of Ancient Greek Culture), and tonight I went to the valedictory of David Sedley (he, like Myles, was the Chair of Ancient Philosophy, and hadn't given an inaugural either). It was a wonderful account of the nature and appearance of god, as seen and debated in ancient Greek philosophy (sphericity is key, I will give away). But he ended with a wry, quizzical, and sharp reflection on what Aristotle would have thought about modern university REF culture (he probably would have quite liked collaborative research projects, but have been appalled by Impact -- knowledge and understanding being crucial for society in its own right and in its own terms).
At the party afterwards, Christopher Kelly gave a brilliant au revoir to David, quoting Choricius of Gaza who argued that the more modest the man you were praising, the more insistent you should be. David is very modest and Christopher praised brilliantly (and very funnily -- who was the most spherical her wondered). But I also fell in with M M McCabe, who had recently given her own valedictory at Kings College London. I had missed it. But, in the spirit of David's reflections at the end of his lecture, she tackled head on and brilliantly dissected the nature of the modern university.I have now listened to it on the web.
Anyone interested in the value of intellectual enquiry should listen to this lecture more than once. You can find it here. But do skip the first ten minutes of introduction (which I fear is an inadvertent, albeit well meaning, example of what M M is arguing against).
I declare an interest here. M M taught me philosophy in my first year in Cambridge -- or she tried to (I quite liked the Pre-Socratics with M M but to be honest I didnt progress, and we came to what we might call "an agreement"). She went on to great things in ancient philosophy and is, as I said, just retiring from her Philosophy chair in King's.
This lecture links the very foundations of the western intellectual tradition with the aims of the modern university, and she exposes from the front line the (anti-intellectual, tick-box) nature of some university administrations and planning. Of course, there is another side -- and, sure, there is an argument to be had. But noone has ever to my knowledge put the argument for the importance of university intellectual inquiry (and teaching) more eloquently -- or with greater knowledge (both of philosophy, ancient traditions and the structures of the modern university). She dumps better on the culture of ratings, branding, REF, funding regimes and competition than anyone I have listened to. And she enlists Socrates on her side ("Learning cannot be put up for sale .. and Socrates can maybe show us why").
Enjoy! (And could someone send it to Mr Willetts?)