catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Death of the British universities

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I hope Andrew Norton has been good this year so Santa puts a copy of “Killing Thinking” in his Christmas stocking.

Killing Thinking is a slender book, passionately written and free from jargon, and it pulls no punches in describing the miserable state of the British academy today. The chapter on ‘audit and compliance’ is titled ‘The Heart of Darkness’; the chapter unravelling the democratic-sounding language employed by the regulatory system makes extensive use of comparisons with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Evans is not alone in her objections to the audit culture – as she explains, such complaints frequently appear on the pages of academia’s trade journal, the Times Higher Education Supplement. What is refreshing about Evans’ critique, however, is that she refuses to pay lip-service to the leftist-sounding justifications that are given to the expansion and modernisation agenda – that it is more democratic and equal than what went before.

Evans makes clear that she is not harking back to some golden age, in which the university was ‘a world of intellectual conversation, engaged students and limitless indulgence’. To do so would be ‘to depart to the realms of fantasy’ – ‘we cannot easily defend the past, or invoke that past as an attack on the present’. As a professor of women’s studies, Mary Evans can also hope to avoid the caricature of those who criticise the modernisation agenda as fusty old men, bent on preserving their position at whatever cost. Unlike many critics, Evans recognises that a combination of political and cultural agendas has set the modern university on its disastrous course, making it impossible simply to blame the political right, or the cultural left: ‘The attack on the traditional ‘high’ culture of universities has come, in Britain, from a complex coalition: left-wing modernisers, Tory pragmatists and all-party and all-class philistines’.

Still, I commend Jacques Barzun’s four books on education and the life of the mind as the premier overview of the state of education at all levels in the last sixty years.
Teacher in America
The House of Intellect
Science: The Glorious Entertainment
The American University

Written by Admin

December 5, 2005 at 8:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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