In Barcelona last week sitting on a PhD jury – one of these public defences that are literally and metaphorically foreign to the UK. The thesis was in Catalan with a presentation to an audience of about 35 in that language, with Spanish and English interludes. I had read a 50 page English summary of the thesis, and was familiar with the research over a 6 year involvement between Bath and the Catalan university. When the candidate had finished his 50 minute presentation, and his supervisors had had a say (a novel twist, I thought), we three jurists had ours. I spoke about the international context of the research and its potential contribution. The last to speak (in Catalan) was the president of the jury, and I had a translator whispering in my ear. I thought the learned and venerable professor was making some quite critical points to do with neglected literature, omitted data, and un-nuanced argument, etc, and so I kept asking my interpreter: "Is that a critical point?" "Yes", she'd always respond, "but not a negative one." Oh, I thought, and where do you draw that line?
In the end, we graded it "Excellent cum laude", everyone was happy, and cava was splashed about. Later, I asked another venerable and learned professor, this time someone whom I had known for a while, what was all the critical but not negative stuff from the president of the jury: "Just showing off" they said; "illustrating how clever they are and how little the candidate really knows." Experience suggests that this a tendency also found here, but in Barcelona, on that occasion at least, it wasn't allowed to get in the way of the outcome.
So Bill, some things are the same the world over!... do you think that there is anything for our system to learn from this?