Letter: Competition is to blame for alleged bad blood at Oxford

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The Independent Online
Sir: The alleged bad blood in this university - 'alleged' because the congregation to whose debate you give space today (report and leading article, 19 May) was attended by well under 10 per cent of the dons - was predictable, and indeed predicted. The bone of contention, 'promotions' ad hominem, did not exist five years ago. They were foisted on the university by government, not to fulfil any definite function (like heading a faculty), but to create competition, in the belief that it would improve dons' 'performance'. In the view of most of us, this belief was mistaken, and unnecessarily hurt feelings, of which the present instance is not the first, was just one distortion we predicted.

'Most of us' may need explaining, but I must first correct Judith Judd. She describes lecturers as 'the lowest form of don'. At Oxford the lecturer tout court is already most of the way to a readership. The 'lowest' category is actually the 'CUF lecturer' ('Common University Fund', a typically Oxford term in that it hides a history). The CUF lecturers are the ordinary college tutorial fellows, who also give 16 lectures a year for the university.

This category is by far the most numerous and is the standard 'Oxford don'. Many, if not most, of its members of any seniority will have turned down opportunities to be professors elsewhere, or even in Oxford itself. On the whole, they regard themselves as equals and pursue the aims of scholarship in co-operation, a profoundly productive and satisfying relationship good both for students, with their various needs, and for scholarship. It is a relationship marred, as you can see, if not (I hope) finally threatened, by these politically imposed novelties.

Yours faithfully,

ALEXANDER MURRAY

Fellow and Tutor

University College Oxford

19 May

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