Having just come back from a graduation ceremony the fact that being an academic is not just a job is apparent. All the pomp and ceremony and hanging out in a big, breezy cathedral are not the normal aspects of a regular job.
When I graduated I thought universities and their ritual were a bit of an anachronism, and probably still did a little when I started out at UWE. They were cute, but past their time. It took me a couple of years, and some of my own students graduating, before I actually attended one. But I think the rituals like graduation highlight two very important and seemingly undervalued aspects of universities.Â There is the position of the academy as a social/cultural institution and the position of the academic as a role (or station) in society. Both of which I don’t think I particularly, or fully, appreciated when I started out, and also both of which are being every more quickly eroded ((especially under the new UK corporate management, though it is not just them that are to blame)).
Now though, rather than this being something vestigial, I actually think there is too little ritual and ceremony around university ((The only things we seem to have are freshers week/end and then graduation. Nothing else really fills the roll.)). Not that I think there should be some quirky oxbridge snobbery, strange handshakes and weird underwear. No, these need to be events, happenings, spaces and place that help the university fit into the city and the community. Also when I say university, that is the whole shooting match: the students, staff, academics, campus, branding, strategy, etc. Ground up, top down. One of the reasons that graudation is nice, and actually rather unusual, is that a lot of us are all together at the same time.
And the reason for needing more ritual, events, I think, is that universities are, and should be social institutions, not just businesses who churn out students andÂ commodifiableÂ knowledge. So they need rituals, events, activities and places where they can interact with the various communities in a variety of ways. Not just big flashy stuff, but little events too.
UWE’s position as “the partnership university” is good. And it does come through by partnering with communities outside itself. Not that I have any experience of other universities, but I think it does do it better than most.
I went into this graduation today, a bit glum, mulling over some of these thoughts about ritual, universities as social institutions and community relationships. But the talks from both theÂ honoraryÂ PhD and the Pro-Chancellor were quite uplifting in that they really pushed home the relationships between the university, graduates and industry, as well as the wider community. They both described the university in the way I think it should be.
Plus I got to eat cupcakes with excited graduates.