I’m in favour of free education at the point of use, including tertiary education. However I am a little bemused at the mad beserker reaction to A C Grayling’s decision to open a tiny and very expensive private humanities college.
If you haven’t heard about this, the college will be based in Bloomsbury, with fees of £18,000pa and some kind of scholarship programme.
From far left reaction you would have thought that Lord Voldemort himself had risen from his Horcruxes to set up a Slytherin Academy of Pure Evil (with Dark Arts BTec).
Here’s an example of what I mean. A couple of nights ago Grayling spoke at a discussion about arts funding cuts held at Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross. According to Index on Censorship, which covered the event, Grayling ’had behaved impeccably in the debate, and had even offered to stay on afterwards to discuss objections to his college.’ Protestors had other ideas:
Not content with calling out ‘You have no right to speak’ and ‘You should be defending public education not deserting it’, towards the end of the discussion one protestor let off a smoke bomb that filled the room with acrid red fumes, forcing the bookshop to evacuate the 100 or so people attending the event.
With this one gesture the activists against Grayling guaranteed that their objections would not be taken seriously. They may as well have danced into the bookshop in waistcoats and doubloons, banging drums, waving feather boas on sticks, and going ‘Flip flip flip’. It is silliness du jour.
Terry Eagleton complains that Grayling is setting a precedent for ‘a system of US-type private liberal arts colleges’ that will ‘relegate an already impoverished state university system to second-class status.’ But I suspect that there is more to the outrage than the fair principle of defending the public against the private. Eagleton, after all, delivered Yale’s Dwight H Terry lecture and Yale’s press published his pro-faith drivel.
No, there is an ideological thing going on here. Grayling and Richard Dawkins, another lecturer at Evil University, are hated by Eagleton, and similar far left academics, because they stand up to the religious right. Eagleton’s big objection to Evil University is apparently that there will be no theology department, and that Tariq Ali will not be able to get a job there. More:
Grayling peddles a Just So version of English history, breathtaking in its crudity and complacency, in which freedom has been on the rise for centuries and has only recently run into trouble. Dawkins touts a simple-minded, off-the-peg version of Enlightenment in which people in the west have all been getting nicer and nicer, and would have ended up as civilised as an Oxford high table were it not for a nasty bunch of religious fundamentalists.
Would there be the same shrieks of pious rage, I wonder, if a similar university was set up, charging the same rates, but staffed by religious/totalitarian sympathisers of Eagleton’s kind, many of whom have long been riding high on the theocratic petrodollar? I doubt it.
In education what matters is what works. For me the two big requirements of a school, college or university should be that a) it should give bright people from low incomes a chance to shine and b) it should not be a tool for doctrinaires and brainwashers of any kind.
Grayling and his friends deserve a fair hearing, if Saif Gaddafi and some Christian used car salesman get one.
Update: Two interesting and reasonable blog articles on this, one from the lawyer Charon QC, another from the American academic Sarah Churchwell. Plus, update on reactions and developments from the New Humanist.
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