University academics have a special place in the public dialogue around Scottish independence. They sometimes venture personal opinions and reach out to the wider population, but this is invariably placed by readers and listeners into the context of their assumed scholarship.
As we’ve written before, it’s critical that academics make it clear when they’re veering off their area of expertise and this does not always happen. However, there’s little doubt that authentic academics are important because of the methodology, method and knowledge which informs their public utterances.
Universities today don’t simply serve as ivory towers, though. They work with local people, and often national figures, of experience and interest. They ask such people in to talk to students about their work and ideas. This enriches everyone. Such visitors are sometimes accorded the title ‘visiting professor’. When they are at the university they called ‘professor’ as a courtesy.
Of course, it is essential to the integrity of universities, indeed that of academic study itself, that there is a clear distinction between a recognised scholar and a visiting professor. They each serve very different purposes. Other institutions have similar practices, too. The British Army, for example, invites lucky civilian recipients to become ‘honorary colonels’ and to attend dinners and events, but does not expect them to lay claim to being senior military officers. Similarly, by tradition, the army appoints ponies and goats as non-commissioned officers but it would be a mistake to ask one to lead a section battle attack.
And so it is of great public interest that it seems that a Scottish ‘professor’ often cited by the media as “an eminent economist”, ‘law professor’, ‘professor of government’, ‘politics professor’ and ‘leading constitutional expert’ (odd to be all of these simultaneously, no?) seems never in fact to have held a salaried academic appointment at any level. He is not a trained economist. Nor a practising lawyer. Nor a renowned constitutional scholar. He is not a professor at Oxford University as he appears to imply and as genuine Scottish academics believe. He does not appear to publish peer-reviewed academic papers, nor supervise doctoral students. In fact, he appears to be precisely the kind of visiting professor universities ask to present to staff and students because of their non-academic experience, while urging them not to masquerade as a professional, or tenured, university professor.
Jim Gallagher is a former, fairly senior, civil servant who describes himself as “a professor based at Oxford and Glasgow Universities”. He was secretary, but not a member, of The Calman Commission. He has written a small number of accessible pamphlets and has co-written a book with a tenured academic. He writes newspaper articles. He dabbles as a study group member alongside professional academics and helps them understand more about how the civil service thinks. This all makes him an interesting person to listen to and for academics to take advice from. However, it manifestly does not make him an ’eminent economist’, nor a Glasgow or Oxford professor of the highest scholarly standing.
His public placing of Oxford ahead of Glasgow, where he holds honorific status as a visiting professor (when he is actually visiting Glasgow University only) is striking in view of his legally stated (scroll down) residence in Scotland. Interesting, too, is his careful use of the word “based”. His carefully written Wikipedia page, reflecting other identically-worded sources, describes him as “a fellow in Nuffield College, Oxford University” (NB: that page was updated to remove all references to academia just before midnight the day after this article was published). The eagle-eyed might spot that being ‘based’ at Oxford technically doesn’t represent a claim of being an Oxford professor; being a fellow ‘in’ Nuffield College can in theory mean something different from being a fellow ‘of’ Nuffield College.
In fact, Mr Gallagher is simply an ‘associate member’ of Nuffield College. A person may apply for associate membership if they have some association with the college; this does not necessarily mean an academic one. Such membership gives access to social and other practical facilities. It manifestly does not confer academic status of itself. A Nuffield College spokesman said today that Mr Gallagher’s; “association was extended in June 2016 until September 2017”, and explained that this was done normally on the basis of collaboration with a fellow of the college.
And indeed, Mr Gallagher does collaborate with a fellow of the college as a member of a study group there. This is the study group. Its explicit purpose is to encourage academics – like the aforesaid fellow of the college – to work with experienced former civil servants like Mr Gallagher. By definition, therefore, the study group includes people who are not academics. Members of this study group, Mr Gallagher says, are confusingly also called ‘fellows’. And so, Mr Gallagher is a ‘fellow’ OF a mixed-group of academics and non-academics IN Nuffield College. Angels may dance on the head of a pin.
For the avoidance of doubt, an Oxford University spokesman said: “Jim Gallagher does not hold a professorship at Oxford. His (only) affiliations are those listed by the spokesman for Nuffield College” (see above).
Meanwhile, Glasgow University confirmed the role and status of visiting professors and that this is Mr Gallagher’s (visiting professor while at Glasgow University) status:
“The university of Glasgow benefits from the expertise of many visiting professors of whom Professor James Gallagher is one. Visiting and honorary professors are entitled to use that designation. Professor Gallagher has contributed to a number of events and lectures, including one last week under the auspices of Policy Scotland. He was clearly titled as Visiting Professor of Government, School of Law, University of Glasgow”.
Genuine Scottish professors we asked this week believed that Mr Gallagher is indeed an academic fellow of Nuffield College with a professorial appointment there. Some assumed that his Glasgow visiting professorship was simply a small addition to a distinguished Oxford professorship. They did not think for a moment that his widely-used professorial title extended from that Glasgow courtesy title alone. Glasgow University’s own rules show why they may very reasonably assume that (see point 1 under ‘Visiting Professorships’). As one Scottish professor said, there is a growing trend for professional people in late-career to enter academia as full, tenured professors. This happens for various reasons – lawyers who may have published extensive legal papers, or novelists who may have published successful novels. But this is not the case with Mr Gallagher. He has simply allowed it to be ‘assumed’ given the highly nuanced presentation of public information about him.
Until now, Mr Gallagher’s apparently high scholarly and academic status has been treasured by elements of the Scottish media because this status raises his views above those of politically partisan commentators. He gives extensive interviews with the Scottish media about diverse issues of economics, law, the UK constitution and politics. In turn, the Scottish media describes him as “an eminent economist” or a renowned professor specialising in constitutional matters. In fact, he seems happy to be described in any way which fits any story.
Yet if it might be felt that he is not responsible for how he is reported in the media, he has been reported on repeatedly by the same journalists and publications and has had many opportunities to disabuse and correct embarrassing and aggrandising misdescriptions. Journalists, especially TV ones, always ask interviewees how they’d like to be described. Journalists cannot be blamed for how Mr Gallagher presents himself and in turn allows himself to be presented. For a person with a trusted association with famous academic institutions, his self-presentation appears audacious.
Over time, Mr Gallagher has proven to be a consistent and somewhat conservative opponent of independence. He is a board member of Scotland in Union and was an adviser to Better Together. He is quite obviously politically motivated. His language is peppered with emotion. Most recently, he compared current SNP MPs to Charles Stewart Parnell’s; “holding a knife at the throat of the British establishment” – a comment which of course came before years of pre-independence and much post-independence violence on that island. Today, this is an enormously sensitive matter. He is entitled to put his arguments in public, of course, although they do have the whiff of reverse engineering – producing research and arguments to fit his prejudices. This latter style is of course precisely the opposite of the method and methodology of the professional academic.
However, as a visiting professor and even as a junior associate of a college, he is under a powerful obligation to avoid at all costs the public perception that his words are those of a senior and eminent academic talking within his field of academic expertise. A failure to do this risks making public debate dishonest, and it risks marginalising the views of genuine scholars. Authenticity, transparency and integrity amongst those taking part in public debate is essential if the wider public interest is to be served.
It is to be hoped that Mr Gallagher, or visiting professor Gallagher while in his occasional role at Glasgow, will actively avoid being presented as something he is not in future. This may help with his application next year for continued associate member status at Nuffield College, and indeed in future as a visitor at Glasgow University. Insiders at each learned institution have suggested that his coat might be on a shoogly peg.
NOTE: Following this article, Mr Gallagher amended some of the designations on some accounts and that may slightly affect some click-through content.