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Socratic dialogue


Ivory Tower: It’s appraisal time for another celebrity academic

Associate Dean: Come in, take a seat, how do we pronounce that name, So-crates? Sock-ra-tease?

Socrates: So-krat-ease.

AD: Like the Arsenal player?

Socrates: Like the Corinthians legend.

AD: No, I’m pretty sure he plays for Arsenal. Now, Mr Socrates how long have you been with us, in the Midlands?

Socrates: Six months.

AD: Yes, it is a fixed-term contract. And where are you from?

Socrates: The philosophy department.

AD: No, I mean, which country?

Socrates: Greece.

AD: Oh, I see.

Socrates: What do you mean?

AD: Have you downloaded the App?

Socrates: App?

AD: For the re-settlement of EU nationals, if you want to stay in this country you must now apply for permission and pay a fee.

Socrates: That offends reason.

AD: There are plenty of things we’d all rather be doing with our time Mr Socrates than administrative duties, but my strong advice is for you to make the application.

Socrates: But I am Greek, not English.

AD: I’d keep that to yourself for the moment, especially since you are on a fixed-term contract.

Socrates: I came here because it is my dream to teach in the ancient universities of England with their extensive resources.

AD: In Mansfield? You don’t seem very familiar with the English higher education system.

Socrates: And you don’t seem very familiar with Greek one.

AD: Now, I’ve got your job description here. You are a…

Socrates: Teaching Fellow. The only thing I know is that I know nothing.

AD: Quite, so I wanted to check if you had published this year.

Socrates: Published?

AD: Yes, journal articles, monographs and so on.

Socrates: I am one of the most famous philosophers in the world.

AD: Believe me Mr Socrates, everyone says that when they come in, but they have a more realistic estimation of their performance by the time they leave. So, have you published?

Socrates: All of my words are written down.

AD: Excellent, who published them?

Socrates: Plato.

AD: I don’t think I’m familiar with that publishing house, are they part of Springer?

Socrates: Springer?

AD: What can you tell me about Plato?

Socrates: He is my pupil.

AD: Your student?

Socrates: Yes, my best student.

AD: Mr Socrates, a student’s lecture notes do not constitute a peer review publication. Can you please take this meeting seriously?

Socrates: I am serious, Plato is very serious, and his pupil Aristotle is even more serious.

AD: Are you talking about the Peer Assisted Learning scheme—is Plato Aristotle’s PAL?

Socrates: They are good friends I believe, but Aristotle is critical of Plato.

AD: This isn’t getting us very far Mr Socrates. Am I to take it that you have in fact published nothing?

Socrates: I am Socrates.

AD: Yes, we have established that, but I’m trying to work out whether you are eligible for a time allowance for research. Can you confirm that you do not have any publications?

Socrates: I speak, and Plato writes it down in a book.

AD: And the books are in your name?

Socrates: No, they are the text of Plato.

AD: And where is Plato now?

Socrates: He is the tutor to the King of Sicily.

AD: King of Sicily?

Socrates: Yes, and Aristotle is the tutor to Alexander the Great.

AD: Mr Socrates, I advise you to take this interview seriously. There are plenty of early-career academics out there willing to come to the east Midlands for a nine-month teaching contract. I’m going to put you down as unpublished.

Socrates: I am the initiator of Western philosophy. I founded a school of thought.

AD: Where?

Socrates: In Athens

AD: Well, it’s not exactly the Russell Group is it. Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about your pedagogic practice.

Socrates: I hold symposia.

AD: Bit old fashioned that. Do you have any innovative teaching practices? Do you use Prezi? The flipped classroom? The virtual learning environment?

Socrates: No, I just ask questions.

AD: Sorry?

Socrates: My pupils sit in a circle and I ask them questions.

AD: Oh dear, Mr Socrates, that sounds terribly out of date. Have you been on any training courses since you arrived? Do you have the postgraduate certificate in learning and teaching? I’m afraid students are looking for more now than just being asked questions.

Socrates: I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.

AD: Now, Mr Socrates, this is your last warning, either take this interview seriously or there will be no prospect of having your contract renewed.

Socrates: I originated an understanding of our surroundings based upon reason and logic rather than myth and the exchange of stories.

AD: We’ll get to what you’ve done for the philosophy department in a moment. For the purposes of the appraisal form, I’m going to recommend that you make an application to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Socrates: That sounds good. What do I have to do?

AD: You fill out the application form and write a 3,000-word essay reflecting on your professional practice.

Socrates: But I am Socrates.

AD: So you keep saying. Anyway, it’s very easy, anyone can do it—the vice-chancellor is a principal fellow of the higher education academy.

Socrates: And does she teach?

AD: No, but that’s not the point.

Socrates: It cannot be worth much if you can become a principal fellow but don’t teach, can it?

AD: I’ll ask the questions Mr Socrates. You are trying to put words in my mouth.

Socrates: That is an example of what you call my “professional practice”.

AD: Sorry?

Socrates: Have you ever heard of a Socratic question?

AD: Of course.

Socrates: Could you say more?

AD: We covered it on my Tomorrow’s Leaders course.

Socrates: And would you say that this course has helped you?

AD: I couldn’t do my job without it.

Socrates: Why do you say that?

AD: I use what it taught me every day.

Socrates: Is there any reason to doubt that?

AD: My appraisals have always been satisfactory.

Socrates: Might there be an alternative explanation to that?

AD: Mr Socrates, I’m afraid time is tight, and we must move on.

Socrates: Are you trying to avoid the question?

AD: I want to look at your module feedback and the National Student Survey results for your teaching…

Socrates: Why do you think I asked that question?

AD: Please stop now.

Socrates: Why was it an important question to ask?

AD: Look, it’s precisely that sort of attitude which led this university to TEF Bronze. I suggest you take a look at these NSS results. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Socrates: Is it rational to judge the teacher by the response of the pupil?

AD: Overall satisfaction, two per cent.

Socrates: I have failed.

AD: At last the penny drops.

Socrates: As much as that? At the end of my course there was someone left who remained satisfied? Someone who had not given themselves over to the examined life of restless questioning.

AD: Mr Socrates, this university does not exist to encourage questioning.

Socrates: Why does it exist?

AD: To achieve the highest position it can in national league tables.

Socrates: Are you sure?

AD: And by so doing, secure financial sustainability whatever the funding environment it faces in an ever-changing policy landscape.

Socrates: And why do you think that is important?

AD: Don’t start all that again. Mr Socrates, you have exhausted my patience. You refuse to publish a word, you have no recognised teaching qualifications, and you refuse to engage in continuous professional development. In short, you are the definition of a failing academic Mr Socrates. Do you even have a PhD?

Socrates: A PhD?

AD: A Doctor of Philosophy.

Socrates: I am the midwife of philosophy.

AD: Give me strength. Is there one reason why we should even think about renewing your contract?

Socrates: It is too close to the start of term for you to find someone else.

AD: Yes, possibly, but what about this Plato chap?

Socrates: And so Socrates must die to be renewed by Plato.

AD: All philosophy is a preparation for death.

Socrates: Where did you hear that?

AD: On my Tomorrow’s Leaders course. It was on a list of inspirational quotes for middle managers.

Socrates: I know nothing but the fact of my ignorance.

AD: No, it definitely didn’t say that. I think our time is done Mr Socrates. Can you send in the next chap, he’s a compatriot of yours, from the maths department, a Mr Pythagoras.

Socrates: The square on the hypotenuse.

AD: No need to be personal. Good day, Mr Socrates.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should circulate freely like a promise to back a contender in the Labour leadership election. Want to enrol for the University of Mansfield’s Tomorrow’s Leaders course? Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com