Forget the Footnotes

Footnotes to the Open Day

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OK, I know I promised to ‘forget the footnotes,’ but let me make an exception for this post. My Open Day speech comes with a few references:

  • The direct inspiration for a speech of this kind comes from my old polisci professor in Uppsala, Leif Lewin. He had a great routine. First he would walk back and forth in front of the students in the big university auditorium for an embarrasingly long time, pensively looking down into the floor. Then, with a sudden dashing turn of his heels he would look directly at us and begin — ‘Students! You are all assembled here today ….’ I loved the theatricality of it. He was rhetorical and ironic and talked about things that mattered.
  • There seems to be a Germanic tradition of these kinds of speeches. I read Schleiermacher’s address to students in 1808 — ‘Thoughts on the University in the German Sense.’ That’s a great statement of academic freedom and the need to think in order for civilisation and culture to survive.
  • There is also Max Weber of course, another German source. His ‘Wissenschaft als Beruf’ — ‘Science as a Vocation‘ — is a broad statement of how a university education best should prepare students for life.
  • A more recent, and Anglo-Saxon, reference is Robert Reich. The arguments about elite universities as nodes in power networks and as places for future leaders to get to know each other, I got from his 2002 book. The corresponding argument about the relative irrelevance of what the teachers actually say comes from Reich too. This is of course the part of the speech that really got the nickers of my colleagues into a collective twist.
  • I heard a rumour that Robert Reich was a runner-up for the job as director of the LSE. If that’s true, too bad he didn’t get the job! He would surely have silenced my critics. Lot’s of people around here are more impressed with the power of an office than with the power of an argument.


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