The graves of academe

As a lifelong champion of progress, I’m happy to see that the concept of the university has advanced since the time that ox-like lad Tommaso from Aquino left his monastery at Monte Cassino.

He travelled to Paris to study with Albertus Magnus at the University of Paris, where his time was utterly wasted on such useless and anachronistic subjects as philosophy, theology, poetry, music, maths and astronomy.

If Thomas Aquinas lived today, he could go to Oxford University instead, where his time would be more profitably spent on taking compulsory courses in black or Asian history.

These courses have been made mandatory after protests under the banners of the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaign resounded through the university halls.

This is one of those questions that, if posed, can only be answered with two words, of which the second one is ‘off’ (pronounced ‘orf’ in the good Oxford tradition).

For such questions are asked solely for the purpose of rabble-rousing, not to elicit a civilised, informative answer. If that weren’t the case, one could explain to the rabble-rousers that Asian people have made a negligible contribution to our civilisation, and black people next to none.

One could argue that some of the formative influences on Western thought were exerted by people like Augustine and Tertullian, who weren’t exactly white. But they are worth studying not because of their skin colour, but because they indeed exerted a formative influence on Western thought.

An Oxford spokesman has commented on the progress achieved in the syllabus, but not the way I would have done. I would have said that the faculty and administration have succumbed to mob rule, thereby proving yet again that university education no longer means anything.

The spokesman said something different: “We are always open to academically sound suggestions for augmenting our curriculum.” But of course. However, the question does remain whether or not a study of the dreams Martin Luther King had represents an academically sound subject.

As a lifelong champion of progress, I can only answer in the affirmative. As someone who still retains some residual sanity I have to answer with two words, of which the second one is ‘off’ – however it’s pronounced.

Forgetting for a moment my championship of progress, I’d suggest that someone with a keen interest in Martin Luther King’s dreams or Mahatma Gandhi’s bathing habits should by all means pursue such interests. I could even a recommend a book or two on those subjects.

Realising that most of today’s students may not be into extracurricular reading, I’d even suggest that an optional course on minor sub-cultures might be made available. But making such courses compulsory is too much even for someone with my unwavering devotion to progress.

At a weak moment I may even suggest that universities ought to be places for acquiring higher learning, not venting baser emotions. What should matter isn’t the racial composition of the student body, faculty or subjects studied but pursuit of academic excellence.

When a university becomes a battleground for ideological warfare, it first stops being a university and then the worst possible ideology wins. I dare suggest that mine is the truly colour-blind approach to such matters.

Our former PM Dave disagrees – or rather did so when he was still in office. Then he was aghast that Oxford only took on 27 black students in 2014. That line of thought is echoed by today’s second-year student Billy Nuttall, who’s horrified that fewer than 10 students at Magdalen College are from ethnic minorities.

Note that Dave knows that precise numbers work best, while Billy doesn’t. How many is “fewer than 10”? One? Four? Nine?

To any sane person it wouldn’t matter, but then no sane person would give two flying bucks about the number of off-white students. Such a hypothetical, and increasingly mythical, individual would only care that university places should be taken by the most qualified aspirants.

I’m absolutely certain that no university in Britain would reject a black student who’s more qualified than a competing white candidate. Hence what Dave & Billy desire is rejecting white candidates in favour of less qualified black ones. This strikes me as a tad unjust – not to mention injurious to the very purpose of the university.

But then I remember my love of progress and bemoan the fact that Oxford, with its obdurate adherence to traditional academic subjects, still lags behind other Anglophone universities.

For example, you could if you wish take a course in ‘The Lesbian Phallus’ at the Occidental College, LA (Critical Theory, Social Justice Dept.). And Queen’s, Belfast, offers ‘How to Train in the Jedi Way’.

Not to be outdone, Georgetown University counters with ‘Philosophy and Star Trek’. You can pursue ‘Harry Potter Studies’ at Durham or ‘The Life and Times of Robin Hood’ at the type-cast Nottingham University.

Alfred University, NYC, can contribute to your intellectual growth by offering ‘Maple Syrup Making’, and Glasgow proudly lists a post-graduate course on ‘The History of Lace Knitting in Shetland’.

The lifelong champion of progress in me rejoices. The hopelessly outdated retrograde doffs his hat in mournful reverence. Academe, RIP.

4 thoughts on “The graves of academe”

  1. It is a shame that you often distort and exaggerate things you quote. The Glasgow Shetland knitting item is NOT a course but a thesis title recording the work of a postgraduate student who investigated some real, local early-industrial history. Glasgow University actually has a distinguished record for its support and study of local industry and maintains an important archive of business records. To quote from its web site:

    search results for The History of Lace Knitting in Shetland
    The history of the fine lace knitting industry in nineteenth and early twentieth century Shetland This thesis tells the story of Shetland knitted lace. It is a history that comprises more than a series of chronological events which illustrate the development of a domestic craft industry; it is also the story of a landscape and the people who …

  2. Universities have now become very like commercial businesses and can pay their CEOs ridiculous salaries to mouth platitudes and do ‘deals’. As you have said in a political context, business persons can have a very limited grasp of morals or due process. The ‘spokesman’ at Oxford was probably a graduate of ‘business studies’ if a graduate at all. This is not to decry business. However, without resorting to monopolies, cartels, protection rackets, creative accounting and bribery of officials, businesses must offer value for money in order to survive. TA had to travel to get educated. The modern seeker of wisdom in the field of African and Asian studies would get much better value for money by traveling to universities in those regions.

  3. “his time would be more profitably spent on taking compulsory courses in black or Asian history.”

    NOT necessarily a bad thing to study those histories. But a good understanding of your own history a must first. You cannot have the proper context for comparison otherwise.

  4. A university education is, was, supposed to be an intellectual defense against the rot of popular culture; but today the two are tragically inseparable. The unread Plato is by no means a more important cultural figure and influence to these lights than Michael Jackson.

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