Does the Queen no longer rate the humanities?
There have just been 12 new 'regius' chairs created in the UK, to mark the Queen's 90th birthday. So far as I can see, this hasn't meant more money for the university concerned, certainly not a nice nest egg of royal endowment. It is simply the honour of calling a chair a "royal" one. So why bother with it? Because, whatever you think of this bit of royalism, it is striking that all these chairs are in the sciences. There is not a single one in the humanities or social sciences. What message does that send out to those of us not working in hard or soft science?
Now, one always ought to hesitate a bit before calling foul play. This was done by a process of application. So it may be that the applications from the humanities were decidedly inferior. And it may well be fair to even out the distribution of regius chairs between universities and subject areas. The traditional sort of regius chair was a bauble for the oldest universities, and largely (but not entirely) concentrated in traditional humanities areas. I am sure that the government selection committee (including Onora O'Neill, one of the people in the world whose judgement I would trust) worked fairly and diligently.
But to end up with not a single new regius chair in the humanities (but a roster of materials, chemistry, precision medicine et al.) looks like a big official vote of no confidence in what we, in my neck of the woods, are doing. You would have thought they could have found at least one of 'our' group of subjects in some university in the country, worthy of the honour.
Part of the problem is presumably the terms of reference. One of the criteria was that the subject in the university should make:
"a direct and significant benefit to the UKs economic effectiveness and productivity at a regional or national scale".
Now, humanities departments do that all the time (to let the modesty slip for a bit, my recent book and tv programmes has actually generated a decent income for the UK economy, both directly and indirectly ), but both government and universities tend to think of economic effectiveness in terms of generating a new pharmaceutical which can be flogged at a very high price, not in terms of the hard and soft profits of a new humanities research project.
And the comments by the great and the good which accompany the announcement of the new chairs seem to correlate with a very narrow definition of 'benefit'. So George Osborne has this to say:
'I am passionate about promoting science and economic growth right across the country'.
and Jo Johnson this:
'We’ll continue to make sure pioneering science is recognised and supported to help improve the lives of millions across the country and beyond.'
If this is the government view, then it's less surprising that the arts and humanities didnt get a look in (the language has already classified them out.
Dont get me wrong. I dont want to undermine science research. In fact, the best scientists I know equally want to support research in the arts. But when I see a list like this, it makes me want to give up honestly -- rather than face the truth that those in government, speaking in the name of the Queen, think that the kind of research and teaching I do is a bauble not even worth a bauble.