Friday, March 16, 2007

Why should universities live off the taxpayer?

Possibly it is the sign of age but I find that I have started too many postings with the words: “allow me to reminisce a little”. Sadly, I am doing it again.

Two memories spring to mind: one is of not so long ago universities in Britain. Actually, in the late sixties and early seventies when lecturers and outside experts who expressed an unpopular view on such subjects as the nuclear deterrent, the Vietnam war or the Soviet Union, were likely to be met by angry student demonstrations, sometimes led by young and ambitious lecturers (as described so superlatively by Malcolm Bradbury in his 1975 novel “The History Man”).

There are many people around who recall the speed with which university authorities caved in to demands that “fascist” or “imperialist” speakers be uninvited.

The other memory goes further back. My mother was a university lecturer in Budapest and, as such, had to participate in entrance examinations and interviews. Among the many questions on the application forms there were several about the applicant’s parents. What were they in 1947 and in 1939? (This was some years ago.) What was their educational standards? And so on.

Certain people’s children had no chance of getting in. I particularly remember a story of a girl, who, in my mother’s opinion, was absolutely brilliant. She was not going to get into that or any other university as her father had been an army officer under Horthy.

And so it has come to pass that both these memories are once again revived. This week we have seen the chancellors of various universities agreeing, nay, promoting the government’s idea that information about parents of university applicants should be sent on to the relevant departments to make it easier to weed out those whose parents come from the educated bourgeois classes. How else is one to interpret this new instruction?

The argument is that the government would like to see more young people from poorer or more disadvantaged backgrounds going to universities. Oddly enough, we used to have a system for ensuring that children whose parents had not had higher education should still acquire it themselves. They were called the grammar schools and a brilliant institution they were, too.

Neither the HMG nor HM Opposition seem very keen on the idea of reintroducing them. They prefer fiddling with social engineering.

The second tale from our academia is far more terrifying. The Daily Telegraph reports that the University of Leeds (sadly, the one at which I studied for my BA) has cancelled a talk to be given by a world-famous political scientist, Matthias Küntzel.

This is how David Pryce-Jones describes him on his blog:
Küntzel is a political scientist from Hamburg University, with an additional research fellowship at an institute in Jerusalem. An eminent authority on Iran, he has published a good deal about the messianic fervour of that country’s leadership. In particular, he has shown how Nazi propaganda and subsidies in the Hitler period laid the groundwork for modern Muslim anti-Semitism. And that was to be his subject at Leeds, under the title, "Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic anti-Semitism in the Middle East."
The university authorities received angry e-mails from various Islamic organizations, who, inevitably, denounced the man and his (well-proven) thesis as “racism”. (Also in today’s Telegraph there is an excellent article on the subject by Jeff Randall.)

They were not directly threatening but the spineless university authorities, just like their predecessors of thirty and forty years ago, pleaded security worries and caved in. Dr Küntzel has lectured on the subject all over the world and this is the first time he has actually been banned … woops … sorry …. I mean asked not to lecture for his own safety.

As he says, very mildly in the circumstances, “this is a worrying trend”. Coming just after the threats against anyone who steps out of line on the great climate change scam, this is more than worrying. It is truly frightening.

And, of course, our universities get their income almost entirely from the taxpayer. Why should we put up with this?

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