Sunday, 5 January 2014

The New "Boy" Network in Academia

I think that there is a network in operation in this country, which I call the New "Boy" Network. "Boy" is in inverted commas because it is really a network of men and women. Having duly railed, ranted and stood against the Old Boy Network of "toffs" and public school gentlemen for decades, we now have, in its place, a much more pernicious network which I believe is willing to be anti-meritocratic in order to achieve certain social engineering ends. It is my observation, (and here, I will be delighted to be proved wrong), this network exercises freely, the last allowable form of political incorrectness, where it is acceptable to discriminate against people who have the appearance of coming from a certain so-called "posh" background. In a bizarre reversal of snobbery, such so-called "posh" individuals are the new social lepers and the very whiff of this background is sufficient to exclude the individual.

My blog-posts are invariably linked to academia and I specifically write about University academia. The proliferation of professors and senior academics in the last decade or so, draws candidates exclusively from the New "Boy" Network pool. Having sat on interview committees, I recall being embarrassed by the after-interview banter amongst those of us on the interview board, where I noted the impolite and scornful comments, the distaste, the clear prejudice and resentment that automatically eliminated people (men and women) who came across as "posh". Whether these people possessed the requisite qualifications or not, the moment they presented themselves and opened their mouths, speaking with what used to be called RP, there was not the slightest chance that these so-called "posh" people would be allowed to move onto the next stage of the application process.

In any true meritocracy, there will be a spread of ability amongst people of all backgrounds. It is logical then to expect that the recognition and reward of true meritocracy ought to lead inevitably to diversity in all organizations. It is my observation, however, that this diversity is no longer found in Academia. I have anecdotal evidence that certain other Public Service professions also suffer from this lack of diversity.

It is significant that Public Sector organizations have quantities of information and vast resources ploughed into Equality and Diversity Policies and Dignity at Work Protocols. Is it possible that the existence of these policies and protocols allows an organization to convince itself that it is in reality practising Equality and Diversity and showing Dignity to all? I feel that when an organization needs vast quantities of documentation to set out in detail what constitutes discrimination, and how to exercise fair-play, such an organization has conceded that it is, in fact, made up collectively, of people who are not merely immoral ((i.e. possessing a defective moral compass) but in fact amoral (i.e. possessing no moral compass at all).

The end result of the parochial and sometimes vengeful conduct of the New "Boy" Network, is that, this country as a whole, will lose out rapidly in the international race, relative to other countries who are hungry for global success. This will happen because, although a little of this sort of New "Boy" Network mentality can be safely absorbed throughout the country, once the subverted motives in candidate selection reaches a certain critical mass, (and I believe we are at that point now in Academic and Educational establishments in this country), we have set in motion, events that will lead to a downward spiral away from excellence throughout the whole country.

When uber highly-paid public servants, occupying the highest offices in our academic institutions, respond resentfully, with depressing regularity, in a "Pavlovian" fashion (recall Pavlov's dog experiment) to the sound of an RP accent, I cannot help wondering whether there is any point to Education in a moral vacuum. If the Old Boy Network was accused of cronyism and the much more destructive New "Boy" Network is most certainly guilty of both anti-meritocracy and cronyism, what are we going to do? Should we not be concerned about the urgent need to dismantle the New "Boy" Network for the greater good of this country's global academic standing?

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