Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

LAURIE Taylor

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

LAURIE Taylor

Article excerpt

The point of low-powered committees is to make sure that no hard and fast rules are ever made

Mike Nesbitt rings to ask if I'd like to join a new committee that will shortly begin a two-year investigation into the impact of online learning on higher education. My duties wouldn't take up more than two days a month, and there'd be a token honorarium of [pounds]60 for each meeting. It was, he said breathlessly, very exciting. Several significant figures from education and information technology had already been recruited, and there was every indication that the committee would become "a high-powered body" and play a major part in influencing government policy.

I found the invitation moderately interesting. Of course, I knew nothing whatsoever about how online learning might affect higher education, but there was the pleasantly malicious prospect of eventually producing a report showing that most of my former university colleagues would shortly be replaced by thousands of domestic PCs. There was also the [pounds]60 a day.

But then came the chilling phrase that eventually prompted me to tell Mike that the present near-death condition of several members of my family meant that I was not accepting any new engagements for the foreseeable future. What so concerned me was the news that the committee would be "high-powered".

It's not that I'm unused to high-powered committees. During my life as an academic, I variously served on such bodies as the Technical Staff Subcommittee, which made decisions about the appropriate grade for laboratory glass-blowers, and on the Ethics Committee, which considered such matters as whether or not the acceptance of a large research grant from British American Tobacco for an investigation into the psychological benefits of chain-smoking was in any way in conflict with core academic values. There was also my high-powered year on the Promotions Committee, trying to decide how best to appoint two senior lecturers from the customary 750 applicants. …

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