I spent several house yesterday morning suffering under the weight of academic tradition. It was convocation. I did my duty, donned the heavy robes and joined the procession of academic 'dignitaries' as we marched across Trent's campus, all to the soundtrack of overly loud classical music. Then we sat in the sun, hot and smiling, through a ceremony, that was probably meaningful for those who came to get degrees.
As the faculty strolled in our wandering way through the crowds of parents and friends, I couldn't help wondering what they thought of the bizarre scene in front of them. Was it a bit of colourful pageantry? Did they try to pick out who had given their sons and daughter As or Ds or, more likely, C+s and B-s?
Or did it all seem like some bizarre relic of an ancient hierarchical system that is now so out of touch with the egalitarian, no-one-knows-better-than-me, or anyone else for that matter, world in which we live? How dare we set ourselves apart, the learned, by our dress and our traditions? And why is this taking so long?
At least it was soon over, and the ceremony began, everyone waiting as each took their turn to receive degrees 'at the hands' of the chancellor. To be photographed, to be cheered, to be deemed worthy. What a mixture of the medieval Christian and the modern. What a bizarre institution the modern, and not so modern, university is.