As officialdom’s demands for meaningless Transparency and Information multiply, Thomas Docherty asks: has clandestine scholarship become the only way to carry out real research and teaching?For a number of years, the university, in common with much of public life in general, has become obsessed with the need to present itself to the world through the twin pillars of Transparency and Information. It is taken for granted that we will piously revere, and robustly comply with, the demands of these iconic towers. Ostensibly, demands for Transparency and Information are positively good: after all, who would want important decisions to be based on a lack of information; and who would want procedures to be covert, operated according to unspoken laws or whimsy, and governed by secretive cabals?
But Information and Transparency are not as innocuous as they seem, especially in the university. When unquestioning respect for them is simply taken for granted as an axiomatic good, they start to assume the power of the obsessive fetish, and the price of fealty exacted is high. Transparency and Information become the means of securing the university’s official conformity with the prevailing social or governmental orthodoxy and dogma. When they assume a primary importance, they govern the official identity of the university, and they thereby deprive the institution of the capacity to make any serious claim for a cultural function beyond the society’s or the government’s official views of the academy.
This brings serious consequential dangers for the university and its proper priorities of teaching, learning, research and scholarly study. These things are all grounded in two axioms of intellectual life: first, that truth should nowhere be taken to be transparently self-evidencing; and second, that information must be subjected to critique if it is to help us seek or form knowledge.
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Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.