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How universities killed the academic Flamboyant brilliance has been purged


March 1, 2024   5 mins

Is it possible to write a satirical campus novel anymore? Satire requires exaggeration and the pointed introduction of absurdity, but it is hard to see how modern university life could be further embellished in these respects. As usual, there were some classic stories served up this week for civilians to laugh at.

In the Daily Mail we read that policies at Glasgow University and Imperial College London now direct staff and students to avoid the phrase “the most qualified person should get the job” because this counts as a microaggression. Over in the US, yet another professor resplendent in beadwork and buckskin has admitted to falsely claiming possession of Native American ancestry. And an article just out in the Applied Linguistics Review provides a brand new excuse to lazy researchers: the requirement of a literature review in some disciplines imposes “particular configurations of privileged knowledge” amounting to an “enactment of symbolic violence”. Or, at least, that’s what students will be telling linguistics lecturers from now on.

The organisation that first uncovered the story about microaggressions is the Committee for Academic Freedom, newly formed by philosophy lecturer Edward Skidelsky to push back against institutional incursions on free inquiry. During drinks at the committee’s launch, where I was a guest speaker, more astonishing tales were aired. I heard of endocrinologists at one Russell Group institution being forced to disavow binary theories of biological sex; of male trans-identified dance students at a prestigious arts establishment insisting they be allowed to perform lead ballerina roles and be hoisted aloft during lifts; and of a reading list in one department with pronouns added for every cited author, including those of Osama Bin Laden (“He/Him”, in case you’re wondering). As I mingled, I added each new tale to my mental inventory of university batshittery, already creaking at the seams.

But while the general public increasingly gets the joke, and a growing band of disgruntled renegades joins organisations like CAF, it is still true that most employees within relevant institutions remain po-faced and acquiescent in the light of blatantly stupid initiatives by their managers and colleagues. Partly this is because they are frightened to do otherwise, as new research also published this week by CAF suggests. But partly, perhaps, it’s because nearly all of the personality types who might in the past have viciously mocked, scathingly critiqued, or otherwise put up an intellectual fight have been weeded out of the system.

It is not so much that these characters have been removed deliberately; but rather that as they retire, like is not being replaced with like. I now look back with great fondness at the sort of philosophy research seminar I would encounter in St Andrews or Leeds in the mid Nineties, where “home” faculty would make a point of trying to psychologically destroy whichever tremulous visitor from another university had arrived to present their nascent research. Back then, there was a general understanding that it was the role of listeners to identify any weak point in an argument, and then to pounce mercilessly in the hour-long question period with no quarter given. Back-and-forths with the speaker could be grippingly dramatic. Philosophy as I first knew it was full of rude weirdos, heedless of social norms and unable to tell one end of an email inbox from the other, but whose brilliant performances at the lectern or in a discussion period would make up for any lapses in efficiency or personal hygiene.

“Humanities departments house people who call themselves philosophers but who are no such thing”

In academic publishing too, there was scope to be savagely biting. In battles over theories of mind, one might find Colin McGinn feuding bloodily in the reviews section with Ted Honderich: “This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad”, began one notorious review of Honderich’s work by McGinn. Or the late philosopher Jerry Fodor, personifying his main intellectual opponent Paul Churchland as a conservative and strait-laced “Auntie”: “Auntie rather disapproves of what is going on in the Playroom, and you can’t entirely blame her. Ten or fifteen years of philosophical discussion of mental representation has produced a considerable appearance of disorder…She sighs for the days when well-brought-up philosophers of mind kept themselves occupied for hours on end analysing their behavioural dispositions.”

Part of the official reason for the elimination of flamboyant academic styles such as these was that they tended to be off-putting to new entrants to the profession, and in particular to women. Indeed, I’ve written before about the professional feminist activism in the 2010s which resulted in a change of approach within the discipline of philosophy, an influx of guidelines and policies governing “conduct” within professional associations and departments, and a consequent stigmatising of gladiatorial theatrics and abrasive personalities.

But perhaps an even bigger causal factor in the UK was the move towards conceiving of the student as a customer. Among the many unintended effects of this unfortunate reframing was a difference in the kind of candidate who would get appointed into lecturing positions. And the change is significantly responsible for the idiotic atmosphere we now see.

For trailing in the wake of the new breed of customer came the smooth professionals good at customer service — lecturers adept at producing fancy PowerPoints and ticking items off on promotion checklists, but low on intellectual aggression and the will to stand against the mob. Out were the mercurial and antisocial intellectuals of yore, in love with complex ideas for their own sake and gloriously scathing when others trampled all over them. It’s hard, for example, to imagine that a man as ribald and eccentric as the brilliant political philosopher G.A. Cohen would be allowed in these days — someone for whom, according to his best friend and fellow philosopher Gerald Dworkin, “nothing was too inappropriate, private, bizarre, or embarrassing to be suddenly brought into the conversation”; and someone who for a long time due to “technological conservatism” was unable to answer email, so that “all correspondence had to go through his lovely wife, Michelle”.

And yet we need such characters more than ever. Or at least, we need to adopt their magnificently scathing contempt for daft claims, sloppy thinking, and fallacious reasoning. Not all ideas are created equal, and academics must stop acting as if they are: nit-picking endlessly over small intellectual differences but going quiet about the big ones. It is admirable that there are legislators and organisations now talking about the value of academic freedom in the abstract, and attempting to create a space for it. But unless thinkers fill that space with arguments that take deliberate aim at the stupidity of colleagues and managers, it will remain a vacuum.

And philosophy itself has a crucial role to play here. So many humanities departments house people who call themselves philosophers but who are no such thing, according to the traditional understanding of that term. Out of politeness or fear of intellectual confrontation, they have been allowed by actual philosophers to get away with it. The predictable result is thousands upon thousands of former students who sincerely believe that truth is relative, sex is fluid, cis het white men are scum and all the rest of it. We need to wrest the discipline back from these charlatans.

Right-wing podcasters are fond of analysing the free speech crisis in universities as a result of deliberate nefarious activity by Gramsci-inspired cultural Marxists trying to undermine liberal values from the inside. But the truth — at least in the UK — is far more mundane and familiar. It’s cock up rather than conspiracy. Various governmental initiatives over the years have inadvertently played their role in creating our current fearful and obsequious academic culture: most notably the introduction of student fees, but also the Research Excellence Framework and its emphasis on public-friendly “impact”, and the Office for Students’ pressure on vice-chancellors to protect student mental health. Under a weak pretence of provocation, fashionable academics may write op-eds suggesting that the value of academic freedom is overrated and even sinister; but in doing so, they are only pretending to open the door for a horse that has already bolted. And in fact, they are the ones supinely propping up the status quo.

One worry expressed by this lot is that incoming legislation to protect free speech in universities might be used illegitimately to curtail the role of robust criticism and sound academic judgement — because someone might be able to claim, with the help of such legislation, that non-publication of their cranky and conspiratorial views amounts to suppression. Yet the force of this worry rather depends on the notion that things are fine as they are. In fact, journals and university policies are already flooded with cranky and conspiratorial ideas; and it is hard to see how the legislation could make things worse. Academics need to start openly laughing at the idiocy on their own doorstep. If they don’t, there are plenty of enemies of universities who will be happy to do it for them.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago

“But perhaps an even bigger causal factor in the UK was the move towards conceiving of the student as a customer. ”

Yep, customer care and the accompanying rampant individualist consumer culture that ushered it in, introduced during Thatcherism, is one of the roots of many evils in the modern world;

The reduction of every activity in life to a business where the only thing that counts is the bottom line.

The reduction of personal status to nothing except your last paycheck.

The ever-widening gap in incomes and outcomes within the population.

The obsession with stuff and the shallowness of a world based entirely on appearances.

The belittling of any other approach to solving societal problems other than the mysterious and miraculous forces of the market.

The elevation of the consumer to a king whose every whim, however stupid must be pandered to.

The accompanying gap between people’s smug and complacent idea of their worth and any real ability or intellect.

The turning of people into petty tyrants with the emotional stability of toddlers, no self-reliance and an unending propensity to take offence.

The metamorphosis of children into consumers at ever younger ages with the consequent blurring of the line between childhood and adulthood.

The intrusion of companies and privatisation into every aspect of life to the benefit of the companies and the accompanying withdrawal of public institutions.

Universities have become factories to process as many gullible numpties as possible and serve their own interests and those of their investors. It’s just bums on seats and the students probably come out thicker than when they went in.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

It’s called capitalism.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Neo liberalism

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Free markets like freedom of expression give people a choice. Britain since 1945 has lived in the delusional world that other countries would not increase technical skills and industrialise, so increasing competition. Ever since the Phoenicians farmed murex for the purple die 3000 years ago and became wealthy and powerful, there has been competition in trade and war because of it.
The Chancellor sits on wool sack. It was the ability of even serfs to raise sheep and sell the wool for money which gave them economic independence such they could buy themselves out of serfdom. If one looks at 14th century churches in wool areas the wealth can be seen.When England learnt to weave woollen cloth rather than sell it to the low countries, profits increased.
When Catholic France caused the silk weaving and banking Hugenot families to flee to Britain in the 16th century it greatly increased our manufacturing, banking and commercial skills.
When Britain invented steam powered wool and cotton weaving machines we became the wealthiest nation in the World.
Japanese visted Britain’s cotton mills and realised they could produce it far more efficiently at cheaper cost. Japanese visited Ford’s car factories and realised they could produce cars more cheaply and at a better quality.
Progressives consider themselves progressive but ignore evolution. Evolution favours those organism which can respond and adapt most quickly which is especially true for technology and trade. Putin has responded to sanctions very quickly and minmised their damage, unfortunately.

Mick Gee
Mick Gee
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Totally agree. There’s been a marked dumbing down in further and higher education. There has also been a marked trend toward pandering to students and a raising of expectations and assumptions of ‘entitlement’. This has placed burdens on teachers and lecturers. Student consumers expect so much: pre prepared literature searches, essay templates, articles, etc etc.. This contrasts massively, for example, to the days when students had to trawl through bound indexes and abstracts, and then apply for copies to libraries. Study skills training in my day did not exist.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Excellent article from a (former) insider’s point of view. Dr. Stock is in fine form here: honest, scathing, yet refusing to luxuriate in vilification or throw up her hands in theatrical despair.

Philosophy as I first knew it was full of rude weirdos, heedless of social norms and unable to tell one end of an email inbox from the other, but whose brilliant performances at the lectern or in a discussion period would make up for any lapses in efficiency or personal hygiene.

A vivid description that doesn’t wax too nostalgic. Such a motley and menacing crew, despite and in part because of the eccentrics and asocial aggressors, seems fitting for a philosophy department of any seriousness and grit. Better than a flock of well-trained parrots at least.
“We need to wrest the discipline back from these charlatans”. Yes! Many on both sides of our simplistic cultural divide can agree with this. Let’s try not to alienate those with whom we can find certain points of agreement, or disdain to find common cause–when we honestly can–with a Montague or Capulet; Judean or Samaritan; Protestant, Catholic, or atheist–on crumbling grounds of insurmountable difference.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago

She’s using stories from the Daily Mail to make her case? I think we can safely ignore Ms Stock’s latest screed!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

You seem to think it’s “safe” to ignore anyone who doesn’t already agree with certain ideas you’ve swallowed whole. Perhaps your point of view is a parody instead of merely a troll’s enterprise. If so, please try to be clever or funny more often.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The idea that the Daily Mail is a useless rag? Is that what is upsetting you, bub?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Not upset, just still unimpressed, bubarino. You blame the source without examining the content, both pro and con. But what are you even FOR?

Georgivs Novicianvs
Georgivs Novicianvs
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

He doesn’t seem to be a real person, more like a character that someone writes for some obscure purpose.

Point of Information
Point of Information
2 months ago

Champagne Socialist is Charles Stanhope* and I claim my five pounds!

*A right wing parody in the same vein on these pages.

Ian_S
Ian_S
2 months ago

Sort of like Punch and Judy, both sock-puppets of one carnivalesque sh*t-stirrer? Perhaps.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

The initials being a dead giveaway.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 months ago

The initials give it away – well spotted!

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
2 months ago

I thought it might be Owen Jones on his lunch break. But that’s a good theory too.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago

I don’t think so. CS Right is occasionally entertaining and erudite, CS Left is never either.
We haven’t heard much from Charles lately, hope he hasn’t expired in a fit of apoplexy after reading (writing?) Champagne Socialist’s offerings

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Yes, where is Charles? Unwell? On Vacation?

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
24 days ago

Maybe in the employ of Unherd to liven things up.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

No, she’s using reasoned argument and a deep first-hand knowledge of the subject at hand.

But well done for exposing how little you’re able to develop any sort of substantive objection.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

CS is not aware of the word ‘substantive’.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago

And the “Committee for Academic Freedom” seems to be nothing more that the usual far right nutcases who demand that everyone listen to them banging on about how the British empire was so great and everyone should a bit more grateful for it, especially the Indians!

Kim Harrison
Kim Harrison
2 months ago

To suttee or not to suttee, that is the question.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago
Reply to  Kim Harrison

No doubt you think trains and cricket are a fair trade for two centuries of rape, murder and pillage!

Rob N
Rob N
2 months ago

Sure there was rape, murder and pillage during the Raj etc BUT a lot less than during the previous rulers’ times and we prevented more than we caused. It was not perfect but it was progress.

Indians’ complaints were based less on what we did than the fact that, perfectly sensibly, they, like almost everyone, wanted self-governance.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago

I’m far right you see, so I enjoy them all – murder, rape and pillage, on board trains and during cricket matches

A B
A B
2 months ago

Telling people what they think, as if you have plausible expertise on the subject, makes you seem kind of gormless.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

You either like cricket or you don’t.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

I am now persuaded that you are part of a fifth column inside the Progressive Left, expertly parodying its every view, and entirely satisfying Robert Conquest’s observation that the only way to explain the behaviour of a political bureaucracy is to assume it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

Blimey, if tired old clichés were soldiers you could rule the world!

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 months ago

“As I mingled, I added each new tale to my mental inventory of university batshittery, already creaking at the seams.”

Another fine turn of phrase from the admirable K Stock. Autocorrect suggested “turn of thrash” for “ turn of phrase” and in this sense understood my feeling that she had given a good thrashing to the spineless academics that have allowed charlatans to fester in their midst.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You think real academics give a hoot about what a nobody like Stock thinks? She just pumps out the right wing pap that you people want to hear and I suppose it must pay the rent but let’s not confuse it with anything useful.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
2 months ago

Wow, what’s your problem, dude? Are you part of the batshittery brigade?

Lizzie J
Lizzie J
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

I’m convinced CS is a wind-up merchant, here to have fun and to see how many downticks s/he can gather.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago
Reply to  Lizzie J

Hey, everybody needs a hobby!

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Lizzie J

Well he’s onto a winner with this comment. I’m pretty sure CS used to post as ‘Graeme McNeill’.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
2 months ago
Reply to  Lizzie J

If he/she/it were for real he/she/it would give us his/her/its pronouns.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

It’s a bot.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
2 months ago

Sorry, “they” is a bot. Did I get that right..?

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

Pre AI.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
2 months ago
Reply to  Fafa Fafa

Our friend AssPain Bolshevist lives for the batshit.

Ian_S
Ian_S
2 months ago

UnHerd readers could say the same about what comment board nobody Mr C. Socialist thinks, except his is left wing pap.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Is he left-wing? I’m a liberal and I love Dr. Stock, I think she’s a hoot. This left/right thing is so misleading. It’s the extremes on both sides that are the problem.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago

Here for your perusal, Poo Fash, is an open letter signed by several hundred prominent philosophers in defence of Professor Stock’s freedom to assert biological reality. Enjoy!
https://openlettertosussexfromukphilosophers.wordpress.com/

Tim Brooks
Tim Brooks
2 months ago

I’m sure you could find other ways to get your self-misdiagnosed therapy.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
2 months ago

Question. Do you understand the actual meaning of “right wing” and”left wing” or do you simply throw these phrases out in order to try look more important than you actually are?
Having known several philosophers over my life, Dr Stock has hit the nail on the head.Free and radical thinking has been taken over by msinstream laziness that seems to be all about providing succour to those students who have never been faced with the word “no”. Employers need people who can think independently and who have ideas in order to move forward, not sheep who think everything on social media is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  MJ Reid

Poo Fash is the resident village idiot. Every online publication’s commentariat has one.

Michael James
Michael James
2 months ago

I bet most academics agree with Stock but are too gutless to say so.

Jane McCarthy
Jane McCarthy
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael James

Not gutless. Just wanting to continue to pay the bills.
Because academia is not a psychologically safe space for us to express our opinions without suffering the reprisals that Ms Stock suffered.

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
2 months ago

Readers, please don’t reply to CS. Reason will not prevail, and it just takes up space that could be used by worthwhile commenters.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Bit Confused here.In what sense is the KS article right wing?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There isn’t any sense to that claim.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago

Just wondered who you would consider to be a ‘real academic’

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 months ago

Can you point out, for those of us in the cheap seats, exactly what’s wrong with what she’s written?

Diane T
Diane T
2 months ago

Your response is appreciated as it finely illustrates the less-than-academic rot (and nastiness) of the left wing pap and twaddle currently perpetuated by your so called ‘real academics’ – which enables them (and perhaps you?) to pay the rent.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

Your correct. It is almost impossible to sack Left wing academics. We now have the situation where a person can be an academic but not a scholar.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
2 months ago

So unlike your unique concentrate of clichés, refreshingly uncontaminated by anything resembling thought.

J Dunne
J Dunne
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Same thing I came here to say. A wonderful sentence that gave me a chuckle to brighten up this cold and rainy day.

Ian_S
Ian_S
2 months ago

The problem for writing a satirical campus novel is not that academia has become so obviously ridiculous — there’s still plenty of scope for throwing into sharp relief the different characters and agendas among those on campus — but rather, is there anyone left who isn’t a gormless woke idiot, astute enough to write it?

John Dee
John Dee
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

I’d have thought the problem would lie in finding a willing publisher for the book. At present, it would likely need 10 or so preliminary pages to cite the trigger warnings.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  John Dee

Don’t forget the sensitivity readers the publishing houses employ to make smooth the road.

Anne Humphreys
Anne Humphreys
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

And is there a publisher sufficiently free thinking who would publish it?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

The problem for writing a satirical campus novel is not that academia has become so obviously ridiculous 

I think it’s more that ‘academia’ has become obsolete. If universities didn’t exist, we wouldn’t invent them. The problem they were created to solve no longer exists.

Matthew Hauxwell
Matthew Hauxwell
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Would you rather have a gormless oblivious idiot? They abound

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

There’s no incentive for someone to waste their time writing such a book, because the mainstream publishing industry is now geared towards mass consumer sales from a limited number of established authors, usually writing commercial genre fiction, often media celebrities whose figures can be depended on, and most literary agents and independent publishers are all woke too!
It wouldn’t be published.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

All of the major publishing houses have divisions that are dedicated to conservative writers. There are also small conservative publishing houses. Google them.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’m talking about the satirical fiction mentioned above.
Not simply categorizable ‘political writers’

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago

In the US, roughly 90% of the people involved in the book trade, from author and agent to publishing house executives and bookstore chain buyers, are female. This explains the low state of modern fiction and why so few males read it.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Yeh that transforms the whole culture around publishing.
The cultural ecology which used to produce great fiction writers just doesn’t seem to be there any more.

Chandran Kukathas
Chandran Kukathas
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Let me recommend the just-published campus novel by one Errol Blackadder entitled Campus Chainsaw Massacre. In the tradition of Kingsley Amis, David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury and others, but with an extra dose of bitterness to add a relish to the bland absurdity of modern university practice.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 months ago

“the professional feminist activism in the 2010s which resulted in a change of approach within the discipline of philosophy.”

Ah, that’s where p***y footing came from.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
2 months ago

Wonderfully cutting, as always. I also liked the “supinely propping up” metaphor, tried to imagine it in real life, I even toyed with the idea of extending it to “prone to supinely propping up” but I don’t want to be presumptuous.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 months ago

Even the photo shows an outdated image of the university: no blackboards allowed, dull-as-dishwater powerpoint only please.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
2 months ago

Being free to laugh at idiocy is as good a rallying cry as I can think of.

I think the most interesting point Kathleen makes is that the current situation is as much the consequence of the lack of opposition to the wannabe progressive authoritarians as of the latter in themselves. Rome was overrun in the fifth century more because the Romans failed to put up a strong fight than because of the innate aggressiveness of the Goths.

Perhaps part of the problem is that advocates for free speech tend to cast their arguments in abstract and negative terms i.e. they are opposed to the “woke”, to Gramscian long marches through institutions, to attacks on their traditional rights, etc etc. But what are they for? Maybe instead a positive argument needs to be put. Rather than talking of our right to “free speech” we should speak of the advantages of “free debate” and emphasise that Western success since 1750 has been based on seeking truth through open debate and that slavish conformity to any orthodoxy will cripple further progress. This has the added advantage of highlighting the disagreeably authoritarian inclinations of modern progressives. Whatever the details, we need a program that is for something positive and not just opposed to recent developments.

I suspect that Freshers’ orientation should include a powerful pitch explaining the many advantages of “free debate” – and compulsory resilience training courses for those still recovering from being educated at schools with the opposite approach. Universities should revert to being places where students are taught how to think not what to think – and the joys of first identifying then laughing at idiocy.

Georgivs Novicianvs
Georgivs Novicianvs
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“Rome was overrun in the fifth century more because the Romans failed to put up a strong fight than because of the innate aggressiveness of the Goths.”
At the same time, Constantinople (the Eastern Rome) was not overrun by the Goths, as its residents revolted in 400 CE and massacred the Goths. And that half of the Empire stood for another 1,000+ years.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
2 months ago

True. And the fifth century disintegration in the West was more complicated. And … I was just illustrating my argument so I hope you will forgive me for simplifying.

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent comment there Alex! Free debate is way more important than free speech.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago

Not anymore in the era of social media.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter F. Lee

Suicidal media is a better name.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“…compulsory resilience training courses…”
Great! I wish these would replace, or at least supplement, sensitivity-training mandates.
I predict that more and more professors and students will be emboldened to put up a strong fight now that DEI and CRT have been publicly unmasked. Non-gothics of intellect and energy shouldn’t boycott universities, but change them from within. (Rather easily said, I know).
And let’s avoid any Roman vs. Barbarian level of violence, either in academia or elsewhere. Problem solved?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The University of Florida has been ordered by the governor to reduce administrative bloat by getting rid of the DEI infestation root and branch..

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
2 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

That’s in response to a new state law. Other state universities are following UF’s lead, including the University of South Florida. DeSantis didn’t “order it”.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Debate should be taught in school, nevermind university.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

I agree. Arguably, the ultimate target should be teacher training colleges which currently not only crank out large numbers of progressive teachers keen to inculcate the correct views in pupils but also many of the administrators who have changed university culture for the worse.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Likely true, though if the kids were taught debate well enough the teachers indoctrination shouldn’t matter.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

This kind of oppressive white thinking will get you in trouble on any campus in the land.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago

While I appreciate Dr Stock’s overall argument, I wouldn’t agree that it’s always ” c… rather than conspiracy”.
I have explained here severally, that Humanities and especially history teaching in India, influenced by the Socialist Nehru and then by Indira Gandhi’s Faustian compact with the Communist Party of India, involved a great degree of totalitarian control.
No-one disagreeing with the predominant Marxist historical approach could survive.
In areas like Bengal where the Communists held sway for 36 years, and where even now hard Left regimes rule, history teaching is toxically intolerant of ” free speech”.
See some comments here on India under the Raj, and that’s one area in particular which has been exaggerated negatively while the preceding Islamic era has been rosily portrayed, due to this malevolent impact of Left wing and Marxist history.
There is a conspiracy and it’s a Marxist one.

Ian_S
Ian_S
2 months ago

Nice to read your perspective, SG.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Thanks

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

I don’t quarrel with your knowledgeable perspective on Indian academia. But Stock didn’t purport to speak for the whole world or all modernity, just her own era in the West, especially England.
“But the truth — at least in the UK — is far more mundane and familiar”.
Also an informed, subjective view–about a level of constriction or enforced conformity that is rather less overt or severe than what prevailed in India during the era(s) you describe.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I made the comment knowing the context you state. However, much of Woke history today- especially in its description of Empire emanates from the kind of Marxist history academia of Indian origin nurtured by the ecosystem I describe.
Think Priyamvada Gopal. Pankaj Mishra. Ashutosh Varshney. Ram Guha. Or even UHs favourite India chronicler Anil.
The domination of this Left Marxist strain has had a domino effect in the entire Overton Window of what used to be called the ” Liberal Arts”, having shifted so much that terms like ” Fascist”, ” Far Right” and ” bigot” are thrown fast and loose to describe what at one time would be merely Centrist, liberal Westphalian views.
Would the Leftist academia today produce even in the West a Michael Howard or an EH Carr?
Would a study of colonial Empires in mainstream Western campuses, taking into account it’s flip sides as well as positives be possible without a tone of accusatory victimhood ?
Conversely, can an analysis of present socio-cultural and political developments in the non- Western world be possible without taking recourse to dogmatic compartmentalized approaches?
My quibble is with KS ultimately not belling the cat- that Wokeism implies an overarching ” grand narrative” of ideological conformism which doesn’t tolerate difference of views and opinions.
To consider it to be stacatto and ad- hoc, instead of deterministic is being gently delusional.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Perhaps. But might I gently suggest that you qualify your certainty to allow more validity to Stock’s perspective on what she has witnessed first hand?
You disagreement is valid, but the charge of delusion, gentle or not, to someone of Stock’s intelligence, candor, and fundamental seriousness seems like a stretch.
Certainly the terms you mention have been devalued (” w h i t e supremacy” too), but so have far-Left and Marxist. The latter category of term is thrown around far more often here. At the NYT and elsewhere, the bias you describe tends to prevail. But even there the balance is shifting. More and more “closet liberals” are speaking up against the illiberal far-Left.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Maybe you are more of an optimist! What I get to see not just where I am, but also in hearing from my ex alma mater( Russell Group, UK) as far as history teaching is concerned doesn’t give me much hope, at least in the next decade.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

I do think I’m less of a pessimist. But even the “not much” hope you allow yourself–especially from about 2034 onward–is better than the fatalism and despair which haunt our zeitgeist. Concur with your remark below in hoping the pendulum swings back at last. I see movement to that effect already, others don’t. Fair enough. Thanks for the response.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Alistaie Cooke when being interview by Parkinson said Cambridge went Left Wing/Communist in 1936. G Orwell points out by 1940 British intellectuals were left wing and dominated by Communists. Orwell said most intellectuals and academics were totallitarian left in outlook whereas he was a Democratic Socialist who believed in freedom and was against censorship. If we look at King’s Cambridge which has had a very dominant role in academia, intellectual activitis , The Arts, etc it has been Communist since the 1930s ,hence the term Bollinger Bolshies. The LSE which has educated many heads of state, Butto for example has always been left wing.
As Orwell said, intellectuals are the least useful members of the middle class. Intellectuals especially in the humanities tend not to be tough so are easily intimidated. There are few humanities academics like the late Professor M R Foot,Professor of Modern History at Manchester who was a former WW2 SAS Officer.
M. R. D. Foot – Wikipedia

The changing anatomy of Britain : Sampson, Anthony, 1926-2004 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

You should stop citing Orwell as the source of your anti-intellectualism. He was brilliant, you are not sir.
You probably would have been down Handel and Dickens and John Stuart Mill if you’d met ’em in person.
I don’t support government mandated socialism and I hate communism unless it’s at the kibbutz level (even then, not a fan).
Nor am I merely some intellectual that has never been to jail or been punched in the head.
What are you even on about half the time?
It’s as if you have about two or three fixed ideas that inform your entire simplistic worldview and you can’t even accept that there are other valid ideas that work for other people.
You’ve made backward-looking ordinariness into a personal philosophy. It ain’t as clever or well-founded as you seem to think. Or perhaps cleverness itself is inherently suspect in your hardheaded, middlebrow worldview.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Never claimed to be clever. Many of the World’s problems are simplistic and always have been. Unfortunately Putin, Iran, China and criminals are demonstrating Mao’s dictum ” Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun ” as shown at Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre – Wikipedia
Criminal gangs exert massive political control in Sicily, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador.
How Ecuador descended into gang violence – BBC News
The Western Roman Empire was not conquered in 410 AD because it was too strong. Genghis Khan said ” It is not the height of the walls or the number of troops on the wall but the figthing spirit of the troops on the wall “. Those running China are Manchus, cousins of the Mongols. During the Cultural Revolutuion a Chinese general said to Norman Barrymaine ” We can lose 50M and still win a war “. 70 M have been killed by the Chinese Communist Party since 1949; how many foreigners would they be prepared to kill to maintain power ? Napoleon said China was a sleeping dragon
Thomas Sowell, said ” Unless one defends civilisation one will get barbarity”.
Competition over resources has been a source of conflict ever since humans competed for water, food and grazing for their animals.
The expansion of Europe started in 1453 when the Turks conquered Constantinople and controlled the Silk Route.
It looks as if we are about to enter a multi polar World, with a population of 7 B and competition over resources. Someone calculated that Western person needs 12 T of steel to support their lifestyle. Using present technology this is impossible for the whole World to achieve. Might may become right.
A study of the past used to part of everyone’s education, especially The Bible, Roman and Greek History. People have not changed much in 3000 years. Those emotions and thoughts which motivated people 3000 years ago still do so today.
To understand Putin and Russia one needs to understand the legacy of cruelty and corruption left by the Mongols.
Living in a country where there is enough to eat, peaceful, private property is protected and where a person is not subject to the arbitrary will of another has largely been restricted to the English Speaking World in the last two hundred years.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

That makes sense to me. I’ve learned that I’m not as clever, nor as perceptive as I once thought–but sometimes I still forget that.
I took your previous comment too personally and was rude to you. I apologize.
I’m in agreement with you on Putin, after all a KGB-super-veteran. I’m in emphatic agreement about the oft-discarded legacy of the past. At least read the Bible, for example, before dismissing or denouncing it wholesale. Kids these days! Older folks too. I respect your knowledge in the areas where I’m not a well-informed or experienced as you. But some of your points are hard to make sense of for me on this side of the Atlantic, as a general reader who is unevenly knowledgeable of history. I do know much of it and get the gist for most of the rest though, I think.
I’d push back that while major world problems are often simple, they should not be understood simplistically. Simple does not equate to easy, nor is one’s preferred society universally, indisputably the best in every way. I’m pretty sure you’d admit that; I’m just trying to get you to sand down the corners of your seemingly rigid worldview. Then again, at least you are quite consistent, which I can’t say for myself on many days.
I respect your evident patriotism, but you’ve taken it a bit far in my view. The English did, of course, export many noble ideas and practices during their long, thriving colonial project.
If you mean a society where in a general, uninterrupted way “there is enough to eat, peaceful, private property is protected and where a person is not subject to the arbitrary will of another”–you might be close to correct, since 1834 in England and 1865 in the U.S. With exceptions around the globe and with many blips, like the Great Depression or post-WWII Britain, where many were not well fed.
Down with Tyranny: Left or Right.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thank you for your apology.
Your last statement on tyranny is the best summary of Orwell I have ever read. I would add religious, whether The Inquistion or Islamic Terrorist.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you for the compliment on my “bumper-sticker” Orwell reference.
Totally agree with you on religion, which tends to elude our already shaky left-right binaries.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago

How much of this is just a ‘natural’ drift though? In my lifetime I’ve seen discussion of empire go from a reasonably balanced ‘there were good aspects and bad aspects’ to ‘it was evil and had no redeeming features’. Is it not a case of those that are more balanced and see the positive side are also less obsessed and move on from the debate, whereas the haters continue to be vocal and so that becomes the prevalent attitude?

An example in the UK is Thatcher. In the 80s there were plenty of people who voted for her, whilst a minority absolutely hated her. The milder circumstance of simply thinking she was the best option available fades away with time, whilst the originally minority opinion of hatred remains, and people who weren’t around at the time simply go along with what they hear, which is the hate.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Roberts

Agree. Ultimately I would hope the pendulum swings back, as far as history is concerned to more narrative and Rankean approaches, including a reading of primary data, to the greatest extent. Instead of predetermined ideological paradigms.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

India and Congress were heavily influenced by Harold Laski and the LSE who did untld damage to her.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Nehru was a Fabian Socialist. Krishna Menon was a Communist. It’s unfortunate for India that both these men held sway after 1947 while Sardar Patel died too early. Rajagopalachari was marginalised by Nehru, though he did try the Swatantra Party fightback.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
2 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Yes. I did reply more specifically which UH has withheld.

B Emery
B Emery
2 months ago

‘ I heard of endocrinologists at one Russell Group institution being forced to disavow binary theories of biological sex; of male trans-identified dance students at a prestigious arts establishment insisting they be allowed to perform lead ballerina roles and be hoisted aloft during lifts; and of a reading list in one department with pronouns added for every cited author, including those of Osama Bin Laden (“He/Him”, in case you’re wondering). As I mingled, I added each new tale to my mental inventory of university batshittery, already creaking at the seams’

This made me laugh my arse off. Universities do sound like they have gone absolutely bat shit mental.
Brilliant article.

Jan Brogan
Jan Brogan
2 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

Yeah. I’ve read this aloud to three different people already.

M Harries
M Harries
2 months ago
Reply to  B Emery

What I object to is the cavalier appropriation of the now defunct agency of Bin Laden. How remarkably presumptuous – microagressive, even – of the publisher to presume Bin Ladin’s pronouns! As far as I know he never prescribed them to us. Would that publisher haughtily suggest that I use he/him for … Julius Caesar, too? In the absence of his public declaration of preferred pronouns, should we not use the more neutral wan / ker for Bin Ladin? (With thanks to Posie Parker who used such pronouns for someone else with another mental ‘twistification’).

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
2 months ago

male trans-identified dance students at a prestigious arts establishment insisting they be allowed to perform lead ballerina roles and be hoisted aloft during lifts

This would have been considered the funniest thing ever on 1970s British TV. Stanley Baxter or maybe Benny Hill’s sidekick Bob Todd in drag.
When Marx said that history repeats first as tragedy, then as farce, he surely couldn’t have had this in mind.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

So it’s Hanlon’s Razor after all, is it? I hope the Prof is right, but can’t help but think it all seems just a bit too well orchestrated for that.

Archibald Tennyson
Archibald Tennyson
2 months ago

It can be c**k-up and conspiracy at the same time.
While most of the people bringing this ideology to life are just cowards, there are genuinely malevolent people seeking to drive it all forward. It’s a cult with concentric circles of participation, from useful idiot to true believer.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Aye, rather like MAGA extremism. Many are just along for the ride but a few true believers–or determined nihilists–know where they want to steer the tanks.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Exactly.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 months ago

I now look back with great fondness at the sort of philosophy research seminar I would encounter in St Andrews or Leeds in the mid Nineties, where “home” faculty would make a point of trying to psychologically destroy whichever tremulous visitor from another university had arrived to present their nascent research.

To the extent that this isn’t an exaggeration for effect, I find it somewhat contemptible. What is described here is simple bullying. Prof Stock knows, or ought to know, perfectly well the difference between robust and penetrating criticism in the service of better understanding on the one hand, and “psychological destruction” — bullying — on the other.

Speaking personally, I was always very grateful to one particular senior academic who helped me elucidate my point in my first major presentation when I was still an inexperienced graduate student; and I made a point of trying to do the same thing for others later on in my career. I hope Prof Stock would have done the same.

Ian_S
Ian_S
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Agree with you — there’s a difference between incisive but fair criticism and the kinds of ad-hom hazings Kathleen stock recalls in her essay here. Some things that happened in the ’70s, are best left in the ’70s.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Ian_S

My thoughts too. Rigorous, even masculine, debate is one thing, but some of this sounds macho, narcissistic and bordering on bullying.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Fair points here and elsewhere on this board. Even nostalgia’s not as good as it used to be.

Susan Scheid
Susan Scheid
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Yes, I was struck by the same thing. Challenging ideas is valuable, but bullying and ridicule are not.

Dr. Stock, in an article she links here, writes about her own experience as follows: “Frankly, these places scared the bejesus out of me. At St Andrews, I think I only ever spoke twice in class. The second time, I was scoffed at by the teacher so effectively that I didn’t speak in class again there, ever. In Leeds, I used to shake with anxiety walking down the endless departmental corridor. Towards the end of my time there, I finally dared to put up my hand to ask a question at a research seminar, and thought I must be having a heart attack, so loudly was my heart banging in my chest.”

While I am glad Dr. Stock, whom I admire, survived this so well, her experience is not, by my lights, emblematic of an environment conducive to learning.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I get the sense that you are missing her larger point, which is that people formed in this kind of environment are much more likely to be thick skinned enough and enjoy being aggressive enough, that they will stand up to bullshit, even when there could be a personal cost.
I’ve frequently noticed that the kind of people who are willing to stand up to some of the more extreme types of ideology, when others fail to, can be quite unpleasant. They don’t much care if others like them, or if they are offensive, or even if they really hurt people’s feelings. They are also frequently monomaniacs of some kind, obsessively interested in what they consider to be the truth, over maintaining cordial human relationships.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 months ago

How odd. A comment I made, disagreeing with one of Prof Stock’s points, has disappeared into the ether. Well, I won’t bother to repeat it.
Later.
Ah, it’s appeared now. How odd.

Pil Grim
Pil Grim
2 months ago

Good article as always from KS. I wanted to focus in on one thing here mentioned only in passing – the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which is used to evaluate the quality of academic publications. It’s worth noting that this is precisely a major (and ironic) reason for the collapse of standards in academia. I sat in one divisional meeting where the person involved with the REF explained to us all that no matter how the criteria changed it could and would always be gamed. And gamed it is in any number of ways. Aside from the criteria and expectations being absurd (too long to mention here) the way the analysis is undertaken is as funny as it is tragic. I knew a major professor (one of the very top in his field globally) who had been tasked with performing the REF evaluation for the government. I asked him how many articles/books he was going to have to read. He gave a figure that was in the hundreds. I incredulously asked him how he would read so many? He laughed. Then said he wouldn’t. Because no one does or could – the most that happens is a few get read and then after that the abstract is looked at and a cursory glance at the conclusions too, just to get a feel of the piece. Then it gets categorised according to the REFs laughable grading system (which is genuinely delusional). Then everyone pats themselves on the back in a job well done. It’s a scam, all the way down. I can’t remember who said it but whoever did said it right – “academic publishing is a perverse form of journalism that no one wants to write and nobody reads”. The perverse reality is that the desire to enforce standards has made the output garbage for the most part.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 months ago
Reply to  Pil Grim

I took part in the last two REFs. I read all the papers that were assigned to me. There are many things wrong with the REF system — and I agree with the point about gaming — but I reject the accusation that I was engaged in a scam.

Pil Grim
Pil Grim
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

I don’t know a single academic who thinks the REF is worthwhile, fair, or even rational. The demand from management that people only produce work of the 1st or 2nd level of quality for submission is preposterous given the criteria. No one can effectively reinvent their field of study every time they write a paper and anyone evaluating endless papers as such is being dishonest or are self deluded. Kudos if you did read all assigned to you though (may be you were given a more manageable amount than the professor I mentioned), although I’m sure either way you could have been doing many things more worthwhile.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Academic standards have been falling since 1920, when Greek was no longer requited for Oxford. The standard of French required for an ordinary leving certificate in the 1940s was far higher than GCSE today. The B Syllabus of the O level included calculus. People used to take separate A levels in Pure and Applied Maths and S level papers fro these exams were probably second year university standard today. Oxbridge Entrance /Scholarship exams were first year degree standard even then, probably second year standards today.
Huxley who won the NobelPrize fro Physiology in the 1950s, pointed out Britain had academic selection at 11 or 13 years of age, which enabled A Levels to be advanced and people earn a degree at twenty years of age and doctorate at twenty years of age, Wiliam Penney of Imperial being an example.
The expansion of post 16 years of education and lowering of standards has increased the numbers of people employed compared to the pre 1960s and increase the income for unions,. The income of a union increase with the number of members.
I have yet to come a policy a union has supported which increases standards but lowers itsincome or voting powers in the Labour Party.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 months ago

I read it as trance-identified dance students at first.

Kevan Hudson
Kevan Hudson
2 months ago

As someone who tutors university students I am shocked at how poor a large minority of professors and instructors are at doing their jobs.
Not uncommon to have professors who take 2-3 months to grade assignments and who take 3-6 sick days during a semester (and therefore cancel classes).
When I went to university in the 1980s even my weakest professors showed up on time, never missed a class and graded assignments within a reasonable time.
In my country, Canada, we truly have a lazy ass culture in most public institutions and many large businesses as well.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevan Hudson

As someone who tutors university students I am shocked at how poor a large minority of professors and instructors are at doing their jobs.

To be honest, the quality of teaching has always been pretty terrible. A lot of academics just don’t seem to see it as part of the job, don’t like doing it, and certainly don’t put a lot of effort into being really good at it. They never have.

Mike Keohane
Mike Keohane
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

There’s an interesting article in the current issue of “The Critic” magazine which argues that Anglosphere universities have ended up with academics many of whom are largely uninterested in teaching because they copied the model set by German universities, thereby putting the overwhelming emphasis on research rather than teaching.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevan Hudson

.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

I was hired to do marketing for the arts center at a local college seven years ago. In corresponding with the theater director, she included in her email signature she/her after her name. I thought it was hilarious – a dig at the ridiculousness of campus fads.
No, I was sternly informed.
I can’t take anyone doing this seriously. It’s no wonder Dr. Peter Boghossian is telling his daughter to stay the h*ll away from college and go to a trade school instead.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

During a zoom class on Beowulf about three years ago, I got into a tense exchange with a born-female person who uses they/them as “their” pronouns. I claimed she was advocating not just equalitarianism but “queer superiority”, which she was. But the reaction of medievalist professor (herself probably some version of a moderate social conservative) and the rest of the class (judged by postage-stamp size images and a few comments in the chat) taught me to back down for the time being.
This student was intelligent and combative, with extreme views. A real self-righteous crusader. Her type was far from common. But two or three in a grad department of 75 can be pretty poisonous, and plenty annoying
Later I joked to my brother that I should have said “I just though she–I mean theywere being a b***h”.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago

But it’s everywhere.

Walter Brigham
Walter Brigham
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Not yet. And resistance is not futile but essential.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

It’s not, thankfully. The only good thing about it is that it signals to recruiters and employers who not to employ.

Christine Marie Janis
Christine Marie Janis
2 months ago

I’ve tried to get students to read novels like “The History Man” (Malcolm Bradbury) and “Changing Places” (David Lodge), but they simply don’t believe that universities were ever like that. I guess it’s good that we no longer have all of the male sexual exploits, but we’ve totally lost the air of academic curiosity. Nobody sits around talking about their subject any more, they’re too busy with applying for grants or doing mandatory DEI stuff. The fun has gone.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago

Being an academic used to look like a great job, if you were smart enough to get a position. Now when I deal with academics I just feel sorry for them.

John Tyler
John Tyler
2 months ago

All too often I’ve heard the sentiment that ‘science better with greater diversity’, though no one has ever managed to explain how or why this is true other than by claiming it’s obvious. I’ve always thought this a rather unscientific response! Science is better when based on scientific principles not sociological mores.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

I’ve not heard that phrase used; is it taken as the new ‘gospel’? It’s pretty much a non sequitur.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Sometimes it is enough just to point out that the emperor is actually naked. I did this once during a meeting, when I thought I have a winning hand, and I won!

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

There was a time when university academic staff would only risk dismissal for ‘gross moral turpitude’ – like sleeping with the Vice Chancellor’s wife / husband, I was reliably informed back in the seventies.
Now you’re as likely to get sacked for addressing a new undergraduate student with the wrong pronoun.
As Albert Einstein, a scientist and a philosopher said – “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and watch as a once-important segment of society ritually debases itself on the slow road to suicide. When hiring the qualified is labeled a microaggression – a term no one heard of till the current madness – academia is not just through the looking glass, it has also shattered it and made returning to normalcy difficult if not impossible.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago

I come from the era where if you and your mates were considering skiving off from a lecture in the uni bar, the academic would drunkenly come over to your table, and march you all down to the theatre.

“If I have to fugging go, you have to as well.”

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Then again, if you were paying a very large amount of money for the service being provided …..

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

The government had started getting us to pay through the tax system once we got a job, but it wasn’t the same as full fee-paying. Definitely a different culture.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

One of my lecturers habitually turned up for a post-lunch seminar absolutely blotto, promptly fell asleep and we just chatted amongst ourselves for an hour. It was probably more useful than him actually being awake.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Ah, the…good old days?

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

“Is it possible to write a satirical campus novel anymore?”
I’d have thought given just the examples in Kathleen Stock’s latest article, that the raw material being generated so rapidly by the ‘woke generation’ in its quest for its own absolute certainty, will keep satirists going for decades.
And that generation’s worst nightmare?
“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

I’m not sure how much I like either picture Kathleen paints. Academia should not be a haven for bland ideologues who won’t rock the (rather leaky) boat, but neither should it be a circus for eccentrics. Not being able to learn a simple technology such as email smacks of rigidity of thought, if not arrogance. Eccentrics are too easily dismissed as living in an ivory tower, out of touch with the “real world”. They don’t get the deference they once did.

But yes – we definitely need more vigour, more rigour and, dare I say it, a more masculine style of debate.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I think most academics are just trying to do their research, and ignore the BS as best they can, much like everyone else.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

What does that look like?

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Ideas being challenged on the basis of facts and argument, not on the basis of political correctness or conformity to preferred ideology. No sacred cows. Academics taking a critical approach to activism rather than seeing their role as providing intellectual backing for activist positions. Truth being put before politics and social conformity. But done in a spirit of collective intellectual exploration and critique, not as a narcissistic c**k fight.
And done with respect, while being willing to accept that some people may be upset to see their pet ideas challenged. A degree of toughness in accepting criticism, but critics not behaving like crude bullies.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Listening to opinions you disagree with without having a meltdown.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
2 months ago

Feminism has played a (large) part in the opposition to free speech and the dumbing down. The introduction of doublespeak has had a big impact. Rebranding regular discrimination against a potential, more competent applicant as positive discrimination has contributed hugely to lower standards. The consequence of the belief that inequality of outcome is the result of various forms of discrimination against particular groups has diminished standards. Appointing candidates because they are female, gay, transgender or a member of particular group (a couple of chief offenders being the universities of Essex and Sussex) inevitably leads to lower standards. This often leads to the silencing of the excellent who are likely to find the censorious environment stifling if not unbearable and leave resulting in the universities being entirely populated by the left wing. Feelings have been elevated above facts and consequently are protected. I attended a few philosophy lectures at an Ivy League university in the early 1990s: three different lecturers, two male one female. One male was an excellent (completely outstanding actually) philosopher, the other was highly competent. The female was not good. I assumed it was ‘positive discrimination’ but said nothing. I am not sure what message it was supposed to send but I found it annoying because it suggested women are less capable than men, and morally wrong as the students missed out on being lectured by someone competent. The female refused to answer my questions so I stopped attending (probably the outcome she desired). The men enjoyed debating with me. The men did insist on referring to God as she or her to demonstrate their allegiance to feminism which I found mildly irritating.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

‘It’s c**k up rather than conspiracy.’ And there we’ve all lost it because conspiracies are so much more fun! Unfortunately, if one can aim the blame for an outcome on incompetence it is almost always more well aimed than blaming it on conspiracy. And tends to be a lot harder to fix.  BTW, I notice that the comments engine forced c**k to be spelled c**k but the article does not. A bit of a double standard perhaps?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’ve had that happen to me with a word, and I said the same thing.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

I used to read The Conversation quite a bit, and it was remarkable how easy it was for commenters to shoot down trained academics. Some of the commenters were ex academics, but others were just members of the public who were both smarter and more widely read than the academics. Few of them seemed to have the slightest knowledge of anything outside their immediate field and it’s ideological stances, and little curiosity about it.

What was also surprising was how unused to being challenged some of the academics were, how poor the standard of writing was and how faddish it all seemed. Ideas, and even words, went in and out of fashion like frocks and they presented a picture of academia as a kind of concept factory rather than a place of deep and interesting thought.

What on earth happened?

Gerard A
Gerard A
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

The percentage of kids going to university has increased 10 fold since I went to university. I thought the decline in the quality of research was due to the need to recruit sufficient numbers of academics to match this growth. So instead of academics being intellectually brilliant, and correspondingly eccentric, they are now on average probably not as bright, and no more eccentric, as a typical university student of my day.

The author has added a couple more layers of explanation for the malaise affecting University standards of which as an outsider I was not aware.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Gerard A

An important point. Those of middling intellect are also less likely to go against the tide, or know how to articulate any forceful “countercurrent”.
I really doubt that eccentrics or socially inept (or indifferent) people have become that scarce in today’s philosophy departments. But the devaluation of advanced degrees, even, to some extent, doctorates, means it is easier than ever for someone who is not that bright to become a professor, not just to encounter fewer brilliant students per 100.
We need to fully de-bunk the notion–widespread in the USA–that every kid should go to college. Even when they aren’t sharp, don’t like to read, and don’t want to go. Ridiculous. Doesn’t benefit anyone in the long-run. (Maybe a few, if they get serious and discover talent or brain power they didn’t know they had; but this can be discovered off-campus too).This leads to way too many undergraduate and even graduate classes that have many students who are average or even a bit thick, too dumb for real academic excellence. Better trade schools and more career preparation in high school are needed.
Instead, Little Johnny Middlebrow from the Affluenza suburbs begins building college-entrance credentials at age six. Twelve years spent at a desk should not be some introductory preview of the “real education” that begins in university.

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
2 months ago

The problem is that humor has been outlawed.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago

No. You just don’t get it, sport.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago

Yes. You just don’t get it, sport.

Max Price
Max Price
2 months ago

I will note your courage commenting on an article like this.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

My first philosophy tutor at Oxford told me early on that he didn’t like the colour of my socks – which were admittedly a nauseous yellow – and went on to ask me whether I was being ‘stupid or just perverse’ after I made an ill-judged philosophical comment. I reminded him about this when I saw him in the College bar towards the end of term, asking him how he knew his comments would not have made me jump off Magdalen Tower. ‘I knew you wouldn’t do that’, he replied, ‘because you’re a smug little shit’. He went on to ply me with brandies in his room, which I happily consumed, keeping an eye on the door in case he tried anything on. I’m still here, didn’t jump off the College Tower and, undamaged, have long enjoyed relating this quaint anecdote of donnish flamboyancy.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

As the Kinks used to say, are you a boy or are you a girl?

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

“I’ve written before about the professional feminist activism in the 2010s”
Indeed you did about another report on “Women in Philosophy” and you wrote: 
“This one followed up on their original one after ten years and summarised what they thought had changed. Utterly predictably, one of the things that had changed was that by now they weren’t talking about women anymore.”
There was at some time in the sixties an organisation called SCUM – The Society for Cutting Up Men. Among other things its manifesto said:
“SCUM will kill all men who are not in the Men’s Auxiliary of SCUM.”
As far as I know the manifesto wasn’t banned but I might be wrong about that and there’s a copy for sale on the web for over £1700. Certainly the author, Valerie Solanas went on to shoot Andy Warhol in 1968 and died in 1988 aged 52 years.
Solanas said Warhol had “too much control over her life”, and that she was on a mission to get it back.
Maybe philosophically speaking Ms Solanas had a more realistic approach to the attempted erasure of women from philosophy and many other aspects of life?
Or maybe we now live in more enlightened times?

Bill Kupersmith
Bill Kupersmith
2 months ago

Can you imagine a ‘sensitivity readers’ report on Lucky Jim?

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 months ago

Kathleen touches on a topic few are brave enough to really get into – the impact of a female workforce on organizations. Women want safe, regulated environments where male behaviour is suppressed. In surveys they are much more likely to believ ideas that are true should be suppressed if they are socially divisive. Universities in particular have layers of complaint processes that allow every sin, real or imagined, to be investigated. All you have to do is complain and the institution takes care of the rest. Young men are already abandoning this environment making them even more feminized. The days of the autistic math prof and the flamboyant handsy writing prof are over. I believe that actual hard core research will be done in private companies – or in countries where EDI hasn’t taken hold. Western universities will become the home of the merely competent propped up by government funding.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

You lost me at “handsy”… I am all for academic freedom and intellectual strength but unwelcome hands are never acceptable…

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
2 months ago

Let’s tell the story of education in Three Ages.
Handwriting Age: monks learned from handwritten scrolls.
Gutenberg Age: Tippy-top kids went to university to learn how to drink and to rule.
Internet Age: Anyone kicked out of university can start a Substack.

C Ross
C Ross
2 months ago

A couple of times in every century paradigm shifting inspiration, creativity and depth is to be found far from the repressive conventions of the university. Once tamed and normalised such ideas find themselves on university reading lists Such conventionality is essential for the next post conventional revolution off site. Ad infinitum.

G M
G M
2 months ago

Some need a backbone to stand up for free speech.

simon lamb
simon lamb
2 months ago

What I’d like to see is a talented satirist, in partnership with a scathing Gerald Scarf-like cartoonist, tackling this absurd pseudo-intellectualism in the one way that the wokerati can never comprehend let alone fight against – humour. Students generally have a great sense of humour, and not-so-gentle mockery may well do the job that logical argument has signally failed to. Would it be censored from student magazines as aggression? Who cares – a Private Eye for students would be excellent right now, even if at first it has to be read under the bedclothes. Subverting the status quo has always had something deliciously irresistible about it – it certainly did for my generation.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 months ago

Missing from this article is the connection between the labour market and the universities. In return for taking on the debts involved in university education, students expect to be rewarded in the labour market through higher pay. As a result, too many jobs are reserved by graduates for graduates, regardless of whether their degree has any connection with the job and regardless of superior skills offered by non-graduates. This puts academics potentially in a powerful position. Academics who silence different views aspire to act as gatekeepers for higher paid jobs in the labour market. They want to be able to offer a choice: agree with us or spend your life working at or close to the minimum wage.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
2 months ago

Could write a book on this one.
1. Hyper fragmentation of research aims is resulting in few real advancements (questions too narrow and barely incremental).
2. This hyper fragmentation a result of the QS global rankings racket/grant structure which means failure no longer tolerated (think small/win bigger).
2. All research grants applications now dogma-led exacerbating the problem (merit downgraded).
3. Commoditisation of UG/PG qualifications diminishing the standard of PhD students (feeder system weakening)
4. Segregation of teaching and research efforts (best academics now do no teaching) weakening the baton passing to next generation. Poor oversight bt the TA class (my TAs typically only 5 years older than the UGs they’re teaching and not PhDs in their own right)

Battery farms producing weaker stock and “animal spirits” with every decade. New ethos or institutions needed.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago

The ability to teach and impart knowledge is a talent in its own right. I’m not sure it even can be taught. Today It is an extremely low-cost entry job in public education, which may explain the quality of the teaching profession.

Jan Brogan
Jan Brogan
2 months ago

Kathleen Stock is the reason I subscribe. Her views. Her humor. Her honesty.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
2 months ago

Where do I sign up to openly laugh? UnHerd is not enough.

M L Hamilton Anderson
M L Hamilton Anderson
2 months ago

People have become ambivalent towards universities. Once they were locations held in high esteem, where critical thinking, thought diversity and respectful and robust debate flourished.
Sadly, they became a cancel culture wonderland from the ’00s onwards, and they became a business many years before that; letting almost anyone in, thus diminishing the value of a degree, and leaving a majority drowning in debt with no guarantee of a job.
When you go woke (left and militant), you go broke.
I do not think universities will ever recover their prestige and gravitas. I almost feel sorry for someone who seeks the continuing coddling of an institution rather than getting out in to the real world. There are so many other paths to life fulfillment and towards a rewarding and well-paying career.

David George
David George
2 months ago

“another professor resplendent in beadwork and buckskin has admitted to falsely claiming possession of Native American ancestry.”
Reminds me of Elizabeth Warren – AKA Fauxcahontas.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago

As you say, redefining students as customers was a big mistake. But it was neo-liberalism and its accordant managerialism which laid the groundwork for that particular madness. And let’s be frank – a lot of those new full fee paying customers were young, po-faced Chinese, Indians and other south-east Asians whose parents weren’t sending them there to become philosophers. We have subsequently seen a destructive convergence of neoliberalism, globalization and Marxism/relativism undermining the capacity for universities to engender free thinking and speech for its own sake.

Max Price
Max Price
2 months ago

Of course it’s because of the women. The whole of society is being feminised where safetyism and feelings rule the day to the detriment of everything else. The problem as I see it is feminism. Rather than encouraging women totoughen up it indulges and encourages their worst “instincts”. It makes it plausible to come to the incorrect conclusion that the old chauvinists were right all along. Perhaps women are too delicate for the rough and tumble of public life. The lack of self awareness of these ideologues is staggering.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

And if it weren’t for all those over-zealous wife-beaters and clods who couldn’t find a clit if it was looking them in the eye, we would have been spared this whole mess.

R E P
R E P
2 months ago

 avoid the phrase “the most qualified person should get the job” because this counts as a microaggression…
If you are a meritocratic institution then the party can’t choose the person it wants! DEI is a war on meritocracy.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
2 months ago

Stock!

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

This rot started in the 1960s when large numbers of universities such as Sussex were created and standards of entry and academics fell.In 1960 one either studied the classics, history and modern languages or maths and science stream at school. Oxbridge and Scholarship exams mean the brightest pupils were taught to first year degree standard.
The new universities allowed a new A levels such as sociology, law and psychology to be allowed. Also many undergraduates were allowed entry with two not three A levels A Sampson Changing Anatomy of Britain 1982. This became worse with the invention of media and social studies A level.
From the late 1930s, especially in humanities most academics were left wing and believed in increased taxation to fund their salaries. Pre 1919 universities were private institutions and became semi -nationalised due to , I think Haldane Committee Repoort. Universities such as Sussex were always hard left, they would not support a Keir Hardie, E Bevin or James Callaghan. Prime Minister J Callaghan in 1976 commented on decline in academic standards.
I knew someone who read history who left Sussex because he had a vague conservative view of life and disagreed with the Marxist view of history and was marked down by the Marxist academics.
The treatment of Stock is the same of any academic who shared none hard left opinions, let alone traditional Liberal or Conservative ones . An academic who had traditional Biblical and Roman Catholic views would have an uncomfortable life in the humanities departments of most post 1960s universities.
Basically left wing academics since the 1960s have followed Herbert Marcuses’ views of tolerating left wing opinion and non toleration of non- left wing opinion.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Part of this article seems undercut by Paul Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge:

I have emphasized the influence that constructivist ideas currently exert in the humanities and social sciences. But there is one humanities discipline in which their hold is actually quite weak, and that is in philosophy itself, at least as it is practiced within the mainstream of analytic philosophy departments within the English-speaking world.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
2 months ago

“But partly, perhaps, it’s because nearly all of the personality types who might in the past have viciously mocked, scathingly critiqued, or otherwise put up an intellectual fight have been weeded out of the system.”

This reinforcing cycle has been spiraling downward in the US, at least, for decades. My experience has been that the most independent thinkers couldn’t or wouldn’t advance in the academy anyway. The process screens out those who truly threaten existing orders–and paradigms, to the extent that concept applies to the humanities and social sciences– unless they are protected in another way (money or status.)

Universities create and/or maintain doctoral programs that graduate far more PhDs than academe can hire, and in fields where lateral moves aren’t easy. Doctoral programs are kept in place to justify the remaining TT positions, always in fear of the chopping block as state-level funding slipped away. Doctoral students amass an enormous amount of debt and so if they get a TT job, they are obsequious from the outset, yet with the veneer of bravery that perpetuates the group delusion that they’re constantly challenging powerful norms. The cost of living is much higher now that the majority of women w/ TT positions in most every discipline forego children–there aren’t enough hours in a day to answer the 400hrs/day demands in tenure track, and juggling the sense of perpetual failure corrodes a woman’s mental health.

Digital media giveth with one hand (with easier searches, composing, referencing, study design, data analyses, and interdisciplinary connections) but taketh away by encouraging 24/7 online availability and easy requests by students, advisees, peers, admins, colleagues, and publishers. It’s also another way that admins can squeeze departments by demanding faculty essentially create multimedia course packages (books) that the university then maintains apart from the creator, and then has adjuncts of graduate students (see above) moderate at 10% of the earlier cost (and similar reduction in educational value to students).

The pressure in the US on faculty in even the least traditionally grant-awarded fields to bring in grant dollars is obscene. From the 1990s to the present it’s become as important as publishing–competing w/ grievance identity–in obtaining and keeping TT positions. Pleasing the consensus of journal reviewers is difficult enough, but the mandate from tenure committees–including older faculty who never got a grant dollar in their lives–to “bring in money” rewards conformity on a deeper structural level. (OTOH, if you can find an interdisciplinary niche between tech comm and education, graphic design, linguistics, or some such, and win a few competitive grants, you get some independence from your dept head and dean, b/c universities want your money and the promise of money successful grantseeking gives.) But calls for proposals themselves further suppress independent thinking, because they’re tied to various Congressional priorities (or the agendas of industrial philanthropy, which are pretty much the same), so that the biggest interdisciplinary brainstorming meetings of supposed world class experts will be focused on sussing out how to best support the goals of a predetermined research/development area. Once you get funding, it usually creates more work than it funds, so any surplus time goes into generating grant-related pubs that make the agency and your upper admins happy and give you clout for getting a follow-on grant b/c you’ve demonstrated to NSF or US Dept of Ed or NIH that you’re a safe bet.

Having said that, I’ve met many mediocre thinkers who got tenure in the 70s w/ laughably small output compared to an adjunct today, including plenty of males who used the “brave and edgy genius” persona as an excuse for lying to their wives, ignoring their kids, and harassing their students. And 9/10 women professors I met who had tenure by the 1980s were even more uncritical than they are today.

The association of morally courageous and fiercely original, ingenious work w/ paid university positions has historically been more of an aspiration than a reality. The cringey unacknowledged paradigm that contributions must come “from subverting the latest paradigm” results in a kind of collective performative delusion. Building on consensus and hard won systems is fine, but pretending through genre convention that every contribution is a major challenge to “the man” has contributed to the current fetishization of critical social justice. Critical theory has actually had much to offer, but it’s been bastardized by simpletons, much like Darwinism was hijacked by eugenicists, to ironically reinforce power structures while rendering them even more invisible. T

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
2 months ago

As Wittgenstein rightly observed, the vast majority of academic philosophising is merely “gassing”. And as Orwell observed, “some ideas are so stupid only an academic could believe them.”