Royal Holloway: support the students, and avoid violence

December 7, 2011

Since I last posted (a long time ago…) I have moved universities… And I have another post I wanted to make… But in the mean time, something more urgent:

Here is the text of another email which I have just sent to Prof. Paul Layzell, Principal of Royal Holloway. His email address is
To support these brave students, have a look at their blog here, or find them on facebook here (and like their page, and maybe leave a message of support), or follow them on twitter @OccupyRHUL #OccupyRHUL

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Royal Holloway: Classics in trouble

July 3, 2011

On Tuesday evening, the news started to break and travelled fast that Classics at Royal Holloway University of London was in trouble. On Thursday, it was confirmed in a statement released to the classicists’ email list by Anne Sheppard, their head of department:

Proposals for cuts affecting the Department of Classics and Philosophy at Royal Holloway

The College Council are setting up a formal consultation process over proposals for the following cuts affecting the Department of Classics and Philosophy:

1.  From September 2012 student numbers will be reduced to 40 per year, for BAs in Classical Studies and Ancient History as well as Joint Honours.  The Classics degree will be discontinued.

2.  The Philosophy staff, including one Ancient Philosophy post, will move to the Department of Politics and International Relations.

3.  A Research Professor, currently shared with English, will move into the English Department.

4.  Of the remaining 11 posts, 6 will disappear by 2014, leaving 5 staff who will then move, as a unit, to the History Department.

The consultation, which has not yet started, will run for 90 days.  The Department will be responding fully to the planning documents that are to be circulated.

Letters of support will be very welcome.  These should be addressed to the Principal, Prof. Paul Layzell, but should be sent in the first instance NOT directly to him but to the Department, so that we can collect them to use as we see fit.

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Election thoughts: part 2: two cheers for PR

May 5, 2010

More thoughts about the election…

Two cheers for PR;

or, Robin Hood and the Labour Party

The question of PR is suddenly relevant for two (closely related) reasons:

First, the Lib Dems are doing much better than usual, and PR has been one of their policies for ages.

Second, the fact that they are doing so well means that the mismatch between vote-share and number of seats is likely to be much more glaring this time than at any time in the past, including 1983. It is still not impossible (certainly if you look at the BBC’s uniform national swing votes-to-seats calculator) for the situation to arise where the Labour party comes third in terms of vote-share but first in terms of number of seats in the House of Commons.

This would be a very odd situation, and the fact that the third party could come first, combined with the fact that almost whatever happens the Lib Dems will get a share of seats which is much less than their share of the vote, gives a very strong argument to those who would like voting reform.

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Election thoughts: part 1

May 1, 2010

OK, here we go. Some election thoughts.

Crystal balls

Peter Snow and his swingometer

I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I don’t think anybody else does either. The polls seem fairly consistent, but they don’t answer some important questions. One issue that polls can’t address is differential turnout. The Lib Dem vote seems likely to contain a large number of people who are first time voters or who want to vote Lib Dem because their response to the Labour and Conservatives is “I wish they could both lose.” These are the people who may well not turn out on Thursday. I think that the polls may well be leading people to exaggerate the Lib Dem vote that really counts: not what people tell the pollsters, but what they do in the polling booth on Thursday. It may well be that the conclusion that we should draw from this is that the Conservatives are more likely to be able to form an administration by themselves than is generally supposed, but it’s also possible that, now as in 1992, the response of large numbers of the electorate in a “don’t know” situation will be to return to the ruling party at the last minute. The honest conclusion is “we don’t know.”

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Google error

September 28, 2009

An alarming phenomenon was just brought to the attention of subscribers to the classicists@ mailing list. I think Terrence Lockyer is absolutely right here. I don’t have a problem with google digitizing lots of information: but this sort of thing is very troubling. It’s easy to imagine a day when lots of items are cleared from library shelves on the grounds that they are available digitally anyway (this happens already with journals, all the time); but this will involve putting a lot of trust in digital providers who effectively become the gate-keepers for a large proportion of the world’s information (information which was much safer distributed in multiple copies between libraries, so that if one library lost it another wouldn’t).

Don’t be evil is all very well: but incompetence can be as dangerous as evil in this respect.

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September 12, 2009


I hope to use this blog to talk about a variety of things that interest me, partly in connection with my work as a classical scholar and teacher.

At the moment, I’m still working out how to do this, and invite you to enjoy this picture of a duck: