65. Universities, Science and the Just Society: Writings of Ted Edwards

This week’s Objects: two lectures and a book by our first Vice-Chancellor Dr E.G. (Ted) Edwards, The Relevant University, Higher Education for Everyone, and Science, Education and Society.  Universities are complex organisations shaped by many people and influences over many years.  The University of Bradford is perhaps unusual in that so much about its story and even its present nature can be traced back to the ideas and enthusiasms of its first Vice Chancellor, expressed in these particular works.

Front cover of Higher education for everyone by Ted Edwards

Front cover of The Relevant University by Ted EdwardsTed Edwards had strong ideas about universities and society.  Known as “Red” Ted for his membership of  the Communist party until the 1950s, and his generally radical views, he argued that, in the atomic age, scientific research could not be objective.  A University should not, could not seek knowledge without also considering the benefits or dangers of that knowledge to society.  Linked to this was his call for “interdisciplinarity”.  Though, as he acknowledged, this was a cumbersome word, Dr Edwards argued that breaking down the artificial silo mentalities of academic disciplines would allow researchers to gain wider understanding, and hence benefit society.  His philosophy was inclusive: he called for higher education to be democratic, open to all, rather than educating elites.  He also considered that student involvement in University government was essential in making the institution relevant to students – and society.

E.G.Edwards, laughing, with the Students' Union Presidents for 1957/58 (J.Butler) and 1977/78 (David Pope) (archive ref X462/ UNI PEGE2)

E.G.Edwards with the Students’ Union Presidents for 1957/58 (J.Butler) and 1977/78 (David Pope) (archive ref X462/ UNI PEGE2)

He was able to put his philosophies into practice at Bradford during the 1960s and 1970s: a new university, in a city with a radical tradition, in an era of rapid technological change and booming higher education in which social and intellectual norms were being questioned.  Witness the wording of the Charter, which added “the application of knowledge to human welfare”.  Ted overcame considerable opposition to include a student place on University council.  With his support, Bradford pioneered interdisciplinary teaching and research which aimed to help people lead better lives and support others in so doing: Interdisciplinary Human Studies, Project Planning for Developing Countries, and Peace Studies.

Front cover of Science, Education and Society by Ted EdwardsAlthough the University did not then teach these subjects, Ted was keen to develop arts on campus, to ensure a rounded and enjoyable experience for students.  He set up the Fellowships in Visual Arts, Music and Theatre, and encouraged the purchase of artworks to enhance the campus.

He took great interest in Yugoslavia, encouraging the creation of research and teaching into the region, and offering practical help to Skopje, twin city of Bradford, after the terrible earthquake in 1963.

Ted Edwards retired in 1978.  He wrote Higher Education for Everyone  and other pieces about the areas that interested him and continued to be active in peace campaigning.  He died in 1996.  His work is continued in the University’s community involvement, its links with industry, its pioneering concern for the environment and in the continuing story of the areas of study he encouraged.

This account is based on a piece written for a 2006 exhibition about Ted Edwards’ legacy: Art and Archives.   Special Collections includes masses of archive material about his work and ideas: his own Archive and those of the University and its predecessor BIT.

4 responses to “65. Universities, Science and the Just Society: Writings of Ted Edwards

  1. Just caught this….thank you Alison….I presume it was you….good to see his input celebrated….I think it dimmed in the immediate aftermath of his retirement….seems like the University is now proud of its old man! Bron x

  2. Pingback: 71. Why Study at Bradford? Social Science ’71 and Other Historic University Prospectusesrsity | 100 Objects

  3. Pingback: 71. Why Study at Bradford? Social Science ’71 and Other Historic University Prospectuses | 100 Objects

  4. Pingback: 86. Scientists in the Quest for Peace: Joseph Rotblat, the Manhattan Project, and the Pugwash Conferences | 100 Objects

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