Graduation Speeches? Of any value?

Graduation (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/784496)It’s the speeches I have problems with: they all follow the same pattern, as though there is a template that everybody consults in advance. Someone – a vice-chancellor, pro vice-chancellor or what have you – rises with dignity and takes the stand to deliver eight to 20 minutes (I time them!) of pompous dross. Usually these speeches take place at the start, but occasionally they come after the presentations, when everyone is desperate to leave.

All the speechifiers congratulate the graduands, but the congratulatory message takes up less than 1 per cent of the time because the primary object is to proclaim the University Brand. To hear these speeches, you would think every university is producing world-class research, cares passionately about equal opportunities, has Olympic-standard sports facilities and will before long be one of the top 20 institutions in the world. The university’s astounding success in the last research assessment exercise is touched upon, and then somewhere in all this euphoric praise a reference or two is tossed in about how caring the (mainly absent from the stage) teaching staff have been. Often after these occasions my trip home is marked by complaints from one of my offspring or their partners that the speaker seemed to think students were an afterthought.

We know that politicians are likely to bend the truth, but we expect (perhaps naively) better from academics. Yet at these various ceremonies I have heard boasts about glorious building projects from institutions mired in debt, claims to be widening access from universities taking in scores of underqualified fat-fee-paying international students, declarations of support for the arts and humanities from places busy closing such departments and, most jarring of all, speeches about the wonderful, caring support given by dedicated staff to students.

Read full story (and don’t watch my graduation video, which catches me as I try and keep my head upright mid speeches… I’m entitled to go to another for PGCLTHE this year, but won’t!).

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