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“Screaming Newmans”: The Inaugural and Annual UnUniversity Awards…

April 28, 2015

awards ceremony

Nothing fills up the comments section of social media sites faster than academics complaining about all the petty tyranny, philistinism, exploitation and ugly gobbledegook besmirching various higher education establishments around the world.

Now it did occur to me that one last attempt might be made to encourage the upper reaches of those university administrations to recall some of the first principles of intellectual freedom and a collegial ideal.   But merely entertaining such a delusionary suggestion caused me to laugh so long and so hard that I required a slap.

So then I had another idea.  Universities that live by league tables and crassly quantifiable metrics should be named and shamed in a very public way.  Which is when it occured to me that we need a glitzy high profile awards ceremony that can recognise and attribute worst practice in the showiest most vulgar manner imaginable.

In my mind’s eye I see this as gala black tie gala, hosted by Billy Crystal.  Or maybe Tina Fey.  Or Toby Young.

Coming up with a name for the awards has exercised me a little.  What trophy design could best denote the complete negation and desecration of any high-minded Idea of the University.  I thought of “The Anti-Newman” the “UnNewman”, before settling on “The Screaming Newman”.  Picture, if you will, the cherubic features of the good cardinal contorted into an Edvard Munch/Macauley Culkin posture of primal pain.

Here are the award categories I’m thinking of.

1)  Most Tyrannical Contempt For Free Speech.

2)  Most Exploitative Workplace (greatest use of sessionals, 10 month contracts etc. etc. etc.)

3)  Most Egregious Philistinism

4)  Most Extensive Use of Gobbledegook/Newspeak

5)  Most UnUniversity of the Year

Now there are a number of other categories that might come to mind – and I’d welcome any and all suggestions. Not all categories deserve equal weighting.  The final late night drumroll and envelope slitting that presages the “Most UnUniversity of the Year” will be the consequence of a distribution of votes accrued in other voting sections.

And once all the votes have been tabulated and the awards announced, they can be sent to various news sites.  Perhaps conferences at universities that are the recipients of “Screaming Newmans” can be avoided.  Perhaps well known public speakers can make a point of refusing invitations to speak at “Screaming Newman” institutions.  Perhaps prospective students can be made aware of “Screaming Newman” universities in advance, before completing their applications.  Perhaps the whole stupid metrics of league-table relativism can be subverted for more positive ends.

I can conceive of two potential problems with this awards procedure.

1)  How can any university compete with Warwick right now?

2)  Suppose various university managements regard these awards as something to take positive pride in.  I understand that the UK government’s Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOS) ran into the same problem.  The young reprobates and tearaways who were to be shamed into reformation by ASBOS ended up regarding them as badges of honour.  Will various Vice Chancellors and Provosts compete to see who can collect the most Screaming Newmans?  Will they strut the corridors of power with Screaming Newmans jutting out of their pockets?

I think both of these caveats ill founded, because they presuppose a kind of consistency of purpose on the part of the vulgarians who are mismanaging so many of our former centres of learning.  Universities are not run by punks or dadaists, whose commitment to “anti-art” has any kind of formal integrity.  Instead universities are run by people with an astonishingly high boredom threshold who are responsive only to the crudest of metrics.  Very well.  The crudest of metrics they will have.

Let the very worst, the worst of the worst be slapped with Screaming Newmans and let the Screaming Newmans offer a crude numerical threat to the well being of the places so served.

And what makes the idea of this awards ceremony doubly appealing to me is that my own institution is so lovely, so wise and so righteous that it will never ever be nominated in any category.

  1. David Slattery permalink

    Aghhhhh – the problem with your UnUniversity gala is that you really don’t feel the achievements of these institutions to be such that they are the object of genuine celebration. You are a fraud because you are still clinging to the old-fashioned values of learning and knowledge and all that out-dated non-sense. Hand your ceremony over to someone like me who genuinely cares about grassness and is passionate (there is an indicator that an award should be forthcoming) about important success indicators like market share of the student body (think cadavers), graduate achievement (think re-training on tills), student parking, and quality assurance, which only occurs when quality is happily absent. Afterall, ass-covering is only required when one’s ass is bare.

    I am committed (think asylums) to providing quality experience (think “I don’t have to read anything, TG” says relieved student) to as much of the market share as possible. Also I have my own dress suit and bow tie.

  2. Point taken. Forget Billy Crystal and Tina Fey. You can host it.

  3. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reblogging this to celebrate Cardinal Newman’s birth on this day in 1801.

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