Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Academic Stalinism

To those of us of a certain generation, Cristina Odone's piece in the Telegraph Notebook today will have raised a wry smile. Her comment that a middle class background may become a barrier, ceteris paribus, to University entry was intended to be a humorous dig against government imposed political correctness.

In fact, and certainly at Aberdeen - fairly middle of the road in most ways- a substantial proportion of the faculty were unashamed Communists even in the 1980s. Class background was the primary issue and the source of their entire weltenschaung.

Over the weekend, I attended a performance of Tom Stoppard's Play Rock and Roll . David Caldwell has taken over from Brian Cox the role of Max- the unrepentant Marxist academic, although both playwright and actor make the character sympathetic, my personal reaction was to remember those of my tutors who regarded anti-Marxists, like myself, as deluded trash. The relief I felt when I moved to study in Canada and did not have to even address the concept of Marxism, was great indeed.

In the context of academic freedom, there may be a place for the Marxist analysis, but Cristina's piece just reminds me why I want to see the role of the state in the Universities diluted substantially. Neither admissions policy nor most other facets of University life can be free for as long as the government pays the piper.

One of the best lines in the play was that it is not the government that is the source of the people's freedom, but the people themselves. We have says one of the characters "created a democracy of obedience". We are not permitted to know how much our hospitals cost for utterly spurious reasons of invented commercial confidentiality, we are stripped of our privacy- quite literally- by CCTV X-Rays. We permit criminality at the highest level of government.

At least we can role back the state from the Universities- can't we?


Tristan said...

People at my school were warned not to apply for King's College Cambridge as they don't like middle class people there (I had a friend who got in, but perhaps because that was because she's Russian...)

Amusingly one summer they redecorated the bar without telling the students to remove the red walls and perennial hammer and sickle. The reason: To avoid upsetting any Tory students.

Kings was a very silly place - they wouldn't wear gowns because they're a symbol of the upper classes or something... and refused to have May Balls as well.
And of course, they loved rent striking.

Etzel Pangloss said...

It must have been hell for you, both sides filled with certainty and loathing.

Thomas Paine gave us your 'best line' in 'Common Sense' if I recall well.

Tom Papworth said...

"At least we can role back the state from the Universities- can't we?"

Such optimism in one "of a certain age"!

Since Thatcher replaced the University Grants Commission with a funding body managed by bureaucrats and broke the link between local universities and local funding, Universities have effectively been another nationalised industry.

Evidence of what might have been survives only in Buckingham, where a rump of right wing academics survives by selling post-graduate degrees, free from the shackles of statist conformism.

Tom Papworth said...


CCTV X-Rays? That's a new one on me. More information, please!

AverageEarthman said...

CCTV X-Rays?

Don't worry about the *health* implications, they're not X-Rays, they're terahertz, so they don't have the health implications of X-rays. The BBC are a bit thick, though, so their article on them calls them X-rays throughout.

X-rays have wavelengths of 10 to 0.01 nanometers, these have wavelengths of ten to one millimetres. So, that's only a million times out. Well done, BBC.

Privacy issues on the other hand - well, they see through clothing.

QinetiQ make them: