This is the second in our series of guest blogs on the future of the engaged university. Paul Gough, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the Unversity of the West of England, asks, isn’t it time to make a commitment?
Let me start with something rather vulgar. The opening lines of a joke by Frank Skinner. “Me and my girlfriend were planning to get married; it was more about hope than expectation; then one day the dog ate the engagement ring.” That’s the first part of the joke. The punch line – the vulgar bit – is at the end of this provocation. But let’s pause on this idea of being engaged. Engaged to be married? A planned period of preparation prior to a life of marital bliss? Is this what the engaged university really is; an endless period of preparation, a curtain-raiser to a brilliant final act, a prolonged aperitif, the consommé par excellence, one long promise of great things to come, all foreplay but no consummation?
When does an engaged university come of age? When does it actually process down the aisle? Or does it stay in an extended period of expectation forever? Or is it like Bill Fisher in Keith Waterhouse’s novel ‘Billy Liar’, engaged precariously to three separate potential spouses, playing one off against the other, swopping the ring from rival to rival, and doing his best to put off the moment of truth. So when can we expect any university to be no longer merely engaged but actually wedded, for better or for worse, richer and poorer, sickness and in health, committed to realising the partnership in real terms rather than as mere trainees.
Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick; maybe being engaged is a part of a process, a perpetual state of being rather than a journey towards an end point. But higher education is predicated on realisation, on output and outcome, on consolidation and closure, on punchlines and denouement. Why should engagement remain outside this fixed rim of expectation? Are we part of a carefully choreographed cop-out? Are we all process and no product? Better to say we are [of course] an engaged organization than say we have engaged, better to talk of working towards realising our engagement strategy, than say ‘look, we are engaged, here is the evidence of our ambitions; look, feel, touch – the bonding is complete, the cake has been cut, speeches made, consummation achieved, union realised, till death us do part….
And the punch-line? I did say it was a tad vulgar: “Yeah, the dog ate the engagement ring. And now we are just going through the motions….”
Do you agree with Paul’s comments – let us know what you think!
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