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British Universities in Crisis

Marten de Vos, Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts, 1590

The Princeton scholar Anthony Grafton had a disturbing piece last week at The New York Review of Books blog on the decline of the humanities at British universities. Grafton’s opening paragraph sets the tone:

British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy.

The market pressures Grafton describes are at play in US universities as well. Increasingly, the success of a humanities department depends on some significant private gifts to supplement the base budget.
I could say more, but hardly as well as Grafton, who is both an eloquent writer and a superb humanist. One more quote:

Universities become great by investing for the long term. You choose the best scholars and teachers you can and give them the resources and the time to think problems through. …

Accept the short term as your standard—support only what students want to study right now and outside agencies want to fund right now—and you lose the future. The subjects and methods that will matter most in twenty years are often the ones that nobody values very much right now. Slow scholarship—like Slow Food—is deeper and richer and more nourishing than the fast stuff. But it takes longer to make, and to do it properly, you have to employ eccentric people who insist on doing things their way. The British used to know that, but now they’ve streaked by us on the way to the other extreme.

Categories: Humanities
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