Thursday, 8 July 2010

On Statements

The statement put out today by King’s college on the future of Palaeography at the college requires one more contribution on the subject.

The statement is remarkable in that the uninitiated would never know that King's actually has a Professorship of Palaeography already. With a true nod to historical example, the current post has been totally airbrushed out of the story. On the surface, it is as though Professor Ganz never existed.

Look more closely, though, and his ghost is everywhere. The college management states the need for the new and improved Professor of Palaeography to “work closely with teachers and researchers in mediaeval vernaculars.”

As no other reason is given for the replacement of the current incumbent, the clear insinuation is that he does not do this, once you rule out the possibility that the management of King's does not consider Professor Ganz's speciality of Carolingian scripts to be mediaeval. Why specialising in Latin rules out any possibility of working closely with a teacher of medieval French is not explained.

It goes on to state that the changes are required to provide “visionary intellectual leadership that takes full advantage of opportunities to develop teaching and research.” Again, the implication is that, at present, Professor Ganz does not provide such leadership.

Even by the standards of poor behaviour set in the past few months, such a statement is petty and churlish in tone, and amateurish in execution. It is also, as has been the habit of King's management actions lately, undisciplined and unnecessary: Professor Ganz has already signed his voluntary termination agreement. To allow insinuations of this sort to appear in a statement now carries a whiff of self-indulgent spite.

It might be pure carelessness, of course, but King's has a large and experienced PR department, and PR people are supposed to be good at making sure that public statements say exactly what is meant, and are not subject to misinterpretation. It would have been perfectly easy to write a gung-ho statement about the new arrangements without implying any criticism of others.

I assume that Professor Ganz, like the 100 or so others who have been pushed into voluntary redundancy, has signed a gagging deal, linking silence about the conduct of management to his redundancy payments. Personally, I find it appalling that a publicly-funded body should use tax-payers' money to stamp out dissent, but it seems now to be standard practice amongst managements who do not acknowledge that anyone has the right to criticise them in any way.

If this is of the standard variety, the wording will be something along the lines of both sides agreeing not to authorise the making or publishing of any derogatory or disparaging statement intended to or which might be expected to damage or lower the reputation of the other. This, at least, is the standard boilerplate wording offered on legal websites.

It would be interesting to get a legal opinion on whether this statement breaches that agreement, and what the consequences of any breach by King’s might be. Would King's, for example, be liable for loss of earnings if it was judged that the statement "might be expected" to cause damage by making it more difficult to get another job?

Professor Ganz, in contrast, has lived up to his side of the bargain; there has not been a peep out of him, either to me or (as far as I know) to anyone else. Many other people at King’s have a great deal to say on the subject of their managers, but have not done so.

It is a pity that some in the senior management of King’s lack this self-discipline and sense of decorum.

But if the management of King’s is voluntarily rendering this part of the redundancy agreements null and void, and effectively confirms this by not withdrawing the statement, then presumably everyone else will also be free to speak as they wish.

Finally, the statement says that it will look for philanthropic funding for the chair, although presumably it has occurred to someone that finding a donor ready to hand over the large amount for an endowment is a hefty task in current circumstances, not least because of recent history.

Equally problematic is the task of attracting suitable applicants when all will know full well about what happened to their predecessor. Few with a tenured job will be tempted, and most of the best practitioners do have that sort of security. Nor will it be that appealing to anyone who currently enjoys pleasant working conditions, or is free to follow the research of their choice without interference. Clearly someone specialising in mediaeval latin will be leery of the idea as well, and that is most of them.

Which raises an intriguing possibility: what if King's finds the money, advertises the job, and the only senior academic with an international reputation who applies is Professor D. Ganz?

-- Iain Pears

the statement can be found at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis! Especially intriguing are the potential legal ramifications of what is a characteristically petulant statement by KCL senior management. You'd have though becoming 'Sir' Rick Trainor would have cheered him up, but there you go...

    I do so love KCL's announcement:

    "The Palaeography Working Group, formed in March 2010 to advise on the future of Palaeography at the College..."

    The Palaeography Working Group, formed in March 2010 as a desperate rearguard action against the worldwide opprobrium being heaped in spades upon our heads as a result of our inept decision to axe Palaeography...

    "...has made its recommendations. The College welcomes this as a fine piece of work that sets out a creative and convincing intellectual case for ongoing support for the discipline at King’s."

    Please stop calling us incompetent bean-counting philistines who wouldn't know what constituted respected academic research if it won a Nobel Prize and kicked us in the shins! We've always loved Palaeography, even though we haven't a clue what it means...