Paul Gibbs is Professor in the Department of Education at Middlesex University, UK. Here he discusses his recent book, Why Universities Should Seek Happiness and Contentment (Bloomsbury, 2017). You can read a review of the book here.
Questions: Naomi Hodgson
Why did you decide to write Why Universities Should Seek Happiness and Contentment?
I have been disturbed by the importance attributed to the notion of student satisfaction as a driver of higher education policy and, then, when I looked in more detail, how it was reported. The real lack of care in the conflation of desire satisfaction as happiness became evident, as did the indistinct use of happiness as pleasure, well-being, and flourishing. The outcome of research with Aftab Dean did not seem to support that this is what students meant when they reported ‘satisfaction’.
What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?
I hope the book calls readers to think and question how they take concern of their own being and, as part of that, their practice. At its core is an existential notion of taking a stance on one’s being. This needs educative practices to help one to establish what is worthy of one’s choices. I also wanted to discuss that, having facilitated an appreciation of these choices, it is up to the individual to decide what makes them content as a way of seeing the world.
And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?
My own vulnerability and anger at the dishonesty of the market for higher education and the institutional players in it.
What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?
I hope it leads to some consideration of different ways to think about what higher education might achieve and what it ought to achieve.
What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?
I was aiming at academics and HE managers and policy makers, as the title would imply, but if the ideas in the book had greater reach that would be wonderful.
What’s your current project? What’s next?
I am concerned about truthfulness in the academy and notions of inherent good in higher education.
What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?
Philosophy of education is thinking about educative practices, the way they evolve, resist, and coalesce with institutional controls and the release of potential these practices facilitate. It matters as it offers ways to take a stance for oneself on one’s becoming within the world. It leads to questioning the controls of others and making appreciative choices on how one might act.