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« Silencing dissent | Main | Quote of the day, epic noodle edition »

The decline and fall of the university

'Is it OK to write "kooky", I wonder'.A series of stories in recent days leaves me with the impression that the university system in the Anglosphere countries is on the verge of total collapse.

Take for example the story that students at Brown University are going underground in order to meet and discuss current affairs free of university policies on "safe spaces", which, for the unitiated, are designed to restrict any speech that challenges left-wing memes.

Tales of similar left-wing attacks on free speech at other American univerities are rife as well.

Until recently, I had rather blithely assumed that such foolishness had not yet crossed the Atlantic, but how wrong I was. This video of a debate on gender politics at the University of Bristol is a case in point. The constant hesitation by the panel chairman, as he tries to work out whether what the speakers have said falls foul of the "safe spaces" policy, is something to behold. Is it OK to say "kooky", the panellists wonder at one point.

(If you don't want to watch the full thing, there are highlights here, although you will miss most of the bits I'm talking about. That said, parts of the debate are very funny and I enjoyed seeing the feminist loon being repeatedly skewered).

At universities across the country, speakers have been banned because their views are distasteful to Moslems, to feminists or to socialists.

As Allister Heath says in the Telegraph today, Universities are quickly making themselves irrelevant. The faculty is overwhelmingly socialist and openly hostile to conservatives, they forbid free speech, most of their work is never even read, let alone cited or used, and as readers here know, much of it is written with political ends in mind.

I wonder what will replace them?

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Reader Comments (82)

In recent Oxford Union debates Delingpole was disappointed when he was defeated by 221 - 76, but a week later Farage suffered the same fate with a 280 - 74 defeat.
Signs of the times !

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad

Judging by the low academic standard now required to enter university, it wouldn't surprise me if those water bottles were the "smart" members of the panel.

The inmates are truly in charge of the asylum. I don't understand why a supposedly Conservative Government hasn't done something about the lamentable state of education.

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:35 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Evidence for the efficacy of the Jesuit approach to education?

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:35 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Whereas we all too readily ape America in cultural matters there is one difference between our two countries that cannot be emphasised enough: their blacks were dragged there in chains, ours came of their own free will: America does indeed owe a duty to the descendants of those it enslaved and (by extension) other non-whites, so, up to a point, it has to accommodate this kind of rubbish. We however, do not. We can fall back on the "if you don't like it here clear off" line. Of course whether the crypto-Marxists who run British universities would ever be so robust is another matter. Quite likely they are applauding the children as the vanguard of revolution, overturnning another bastion of classist oppression blah blah blah (so long as their wages and pensions get paid of course).

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

Ah, Bristol university the home of that intellectual colossus Lewandowsky. Did we really expect there would be any other outcome with this third rate establishment.

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Glad I did a part time degree and as such no where near that stuff.

Dec 3, 2015 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

There is a special place for the very worst specimens of Academia. With Orwellian irony, it is called "The Conversation", with false promises of academic rigour, journalistic flair and being free from political bias.

In one recent exhibit the Director of Greenpeace Studies at the University of Greenpeace, named John Jewell, cites Greenpeace, Greenpeace and Greenpeace, together with The Guardian, The Guardian, and The Guardian.

Geoff Chambers valiantly tries to establish some sort of genuine conversation with these individuals, and recounts some of his experiences here.

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:00 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

This is a variant of Sartre's Hell!

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

The African genocide was mainly carried out by British and Portuguese, dear bill, which is why those countries have a relatively larger black population than other European countries and why the last two slaver nations in the world were their former colonies, United States and Brazil.

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterAila

the meek have indeed inherited the earth, or at least the western developed part of it. this is a symptom of life becoming too easy . even 60 years ago maintaining the basic standards for a reasonable life took a lot of effort and most people were not far away from genuine hardship.

100 years ago these types would never have been given the time of day. can you imagine how many of today's hand wringers would have reacted to having to serve during the great war for example. political correctness has become a tool for the weak to wield against those they have no other way of challenging, either physically or mentally.

while i have no desire to see the developed world return to a might is right way of life on an individual basis (it still is on the international stage) i really do wonder where we are heading .to me it looks like the thought police are not too far away.

as long as educational standards continue to drop and the number of non jobs continues to rise for the happy clappy holier than thou brigade i do not see things getting better any time soon.

maybe a harsh winter with a few weeks of power cuts may burst the bubble of those that think their first world problems should be given the time of day.

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterbit chilly

You ask "what will take over", in my article: The end of the UK university? I suggested that like so many in manufacturing industry who were caught out by automation, likewise, many in University teaching will suddenly discover that it makes far more sense (at least for the first couple of years) to spend a lot of money developing teaching media and then massively reduce the number of lecturers.

However, I suspect the initial impetus for this will come in sparsely populated countries without a dense network of universities. Here, many will be very willing to use the internet and modern media to complete a course instead of incurring the vast expense of moving to one of the Universities. We already see the same thing in Scotland with the University of the Highlands & Islands.

I also suggest, that at first (like cheap Japanese imports when I was younger) the mass produced graduates will be looked down on by traditional universities as being nothing like the same "hand-crafted" product they produce. Then within a couple of decades, the cost & quality of University education will have tumbled, so that almost everyone is happy to use the new University material stemming from the new big players in University education in Africa and Asia - and the "traditional" UK Universities will suffer the same strike ridden decline into nothingness as happened to much of UK industry.

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Bill, Aila

Rather than argue about whose ancestors were nastiest to blacks 200 years ago, let's look at what we're doing in Africa now.

Take, for instance, a government subsidised renewable energy scheme, whereby South African green subsidies enable Oxfam, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, McKinseys etc. to offer investors an 8-18% return on investment for installing smart meters in the natives' mud huts so they can recharge their phones. Think I'm exaggerating? I uncovered a small corner of this business plan more or less by accident when exploring where one careless green millionaire had mislaid 1.2 million. See part 6 here

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:33 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Relatedly, see the excellent

George Will, “America’s higher education brought low”, Washington Post, 25 November 2015.

Dec 3, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterDouglas J. Keenan

Bill, Aila
I think we should throw Arab Slave traders into the mix.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


I am no advocate for the former British Empire, but I cannot allow your statement to stand. While the British undoubtedly did many bad things in Africa (and elsewhere in the world - and still do, including today in Syria, I see), your statement that "African genocide was mainly carried out by British and Portuguese" is simply not true. The Belgian king's lackeys behaved far worse in the Congo, as did the Germans in German South West Africa (today's Namibia).

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Despite what some might think.. I hated Blair, Mandelson and Brown more than Thatcher.

This horror is caused by the wholesale Americanisation of our culture, lead by the Guardian, who at one point had twice as many American online visitors than British (now 27-20).

This certainly isn't left wing politics and to say it is, is an American viewpoint. It's actually political correctness which has replaced real left wing politics in America and it's happened here too. We are becoming (more) American because are now as dumb as they are.

Articles on British dumbing down

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

There have been elements of this in our Universities for at least 25 years (since I started as an undergraduate). Anyone with a bit of nous knew which Societies to avoid and whether it was worth getting involved in NUS politics (the answer being usually not, unless you had aspirations to a career in politics later).

Those of us in Science and Engineering faculties could easily keep out of the way of the 'social science' nonsense, and I suspect for the vast majority of students at British universities this remains true - the interests of the average student being: drinking, picking up members of the opposite sex / same sex / indeterminate sex / unrelated species (delete as per preference), drinking, failing to attend lectures, drinking, sleeping, drinking, watching daytime TV, drinking and drinking. Oh, and a few sometimes manage to fit a rugby match in between the drinking...

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan Blanchard

Can we take discussion of African slavery and empire to the forum please.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

David Thompson has many excellent examples of what he calls the Clown Quarter of Academia including the brilliant Janice Fiamengo.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

What was the powerhouse of the Age of Enlightenment against the forces of religious dogma, has now become the home of religious dogma. No ideas of note have came out of them for nearly a half century.

The only spark of light I see for the concept of a university comes from Asia, where students actually study something in an atmosphere that demands of them brains and effort, or else they're out, because there's a queue of people behind them for their place.


Dec 3, 2015 at 11:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

ISTR at uni in the early 80s we had to have urinals in the Ladies toilets for equality reasons so the loons have always been there.

We used to point and laugh at them but somehow when our backs were turned they've wheedled their way into positions of power in all sorts of walks of life.

What to do?

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:17 AM | Registered CommenterSimonW

Your Grace: your boast of 'I enjoyed seeing the feminist loon being repeatedly skewered' is unacceptably misogynistic innuendo. Report for re-education immediately.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

Thanks Paul for the plug. The person involved there was a lecturer in journalism at Cardiff. I've also been chatting concurrently with Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at my old university UCL

This was a rewrite of an article a year ago which had been blown apart by Paul, Rog Tallbloke, His Grace, Willis Eschenbach, Doug Keenan, Kevin Marshall and many others. This time I was more or less isolated. An editor turned up to say Maslin didn't want to talk to me. I pointed out that Maslin specifically said he was willing to debate, and so he did, for just one exchange, when he changed his mind and said he didn't want to.

The Conversation is different from other outlets in that it is financed by universities. Every year, thirty odd committees of professors sit down and decide to pay the salary of that editor who said that he'd love to ban me if only he could, but that it wasn't necessary, because no-one reads the conversation at the Conversation anyway. It would be nice to prove him wrong. It would be nice to wake up those committees of professors to their responsibilities for promoting open debate seriously.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Try doing a google search for "university energy course", you'll have to wait till around the third page to find one that does not contain one of the key words, like renewable, sustainable or clean.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

What is the opposite of "diversity"? Answer:"University".

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post

Just last night, one of those SJWs (social justice warriors, look it up) stopped by my page where I argue climate. She left a number of ugly epithets on my page, suggesting among other things that I was racist.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterClimateOtter

MikeHaseler on Dec 3, 2015 at 10:26 AM

If what you say comes to pass, it will mean that the quality of schooling will become even more important.

Your article is really proposing to 'automate' lectures, so they can become much higher in quality (and much cheaper), so that discussion groups can become a more important aspect of university life. The problem of interleaving these two approaches needs to be solved, but it is only(!) a logistical problem.

We already have a university that has started this: the Open University. Perhaps the traditional universities could offer a course over a summer vacation, with the Open University's help, and an examination pass at the start of the Autumn Term would be a 'course completed' before the term started in earnest.

The problems that the universities have, I think, are that many universities have slid into the British Leyland mould and the feedback mechanism that could force change is just too slow, if it exists at all, that Blair treated higher education as a commodity, a goal without any purpose so that students 'went with the flow' and only realised what they wanted to study after their degree, and that too many students just don't understand that believing the first theory, the first agenda or the first person they meet isn't scholarship, even if it involves prestigiousness in some way or form, and that it might be utterly useless, pointless and career limiting in the real world!

And don't we know it in Climate Science!

This results in many students not understanding the prosperous world that has allowed them to receive the gift of scholarship and political and economic freedom that has rarely existed before, and is now under threat from many quarters.

The irresistible force is meeting the immovable object of reality and it doesn't matter who is prime minister, it will happen, and the prime minister at the time will be blamed.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

I know the UK is slowly becoming a Marxist safe haven.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Maybe I'm being too overtly political - but the left in particular has cultivated a dogma driven deeply ignorant mediocracy that has debased the currency of public debate to positively Weimar levels - and most of the so called right has ridden on the coat tails of this.

Petty power and status are fought over in large part by those with inadequate teaching skills and little real interest in the furthering of knowledge. Many "Degrees" are handed out on an "everybody gets prizes" basis at instutions that only a few years ago struggled to produce competent hairdressers.

If dilution continues then homeopathy beckons.

Kindergarten level reasoning and playground bullying should both be confronted - we have few folk around who are prepared to stand their ground.

Dec 3, 2015 at 11:53 AM | Registered Commentertomo

I saw a story indicative of this namby-pambyism yesterday (Statue of sleep-walking man triggers controversy at Wellesley College). A hyperrealistic statue of an almost naked sleepwalking man was installed at a women's college in Massachusetts. The students petitioned to have it removed:

“[T]his highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community,” says the petition.

“While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students.”

I can guarantee, if this statue had been installed at my university when I was a student in the 1980s, by the next morning, he'd have had his underpants on his head, or he'd have been sporting a bra or a traffic cone. Are students really such delicate flowers these days that a mere statue can cause them "undue stress"?

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterturningtide


You nailed it !

How this works is that if you have 2 or 3 incompetents in a class of 30, you can fail them. If you have 20 incompetents, you have to pass all of them.The trouble is caused at the admissions stage. I was offered a job which included just that and literally told the management to FOAD.

I encountered a class of students who claimed to have passed no assessments and still 'graduated'. I met a guy was bombarded with invitations to his graduation when he hadn't attended for 8 months.


Dec 3, 2015 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

You can't say something like this, and be taken seriously

This was a rewrite of an article a year ago which had been blown apart by Paul, Rog Tallbloke, His Grace, Willis Eschenbach, Doug Keenan, Kevin Marshall and many others.

Come on, have some self-respect.

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics


'Kindergarten level reasoning and playground bullying' are a now a prominent feature of our society.

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Your Grace

I think Paul Mathews nailed this subject first sir; in the Discussion "What is Sustainability":

Good question!

There is a long essay about this at our new blog, by Danny Weston. "Our New Normal – the cult of Sustainability takes over Higher Education". There is a section discussing what it means, followed by a look at how the 'cult' is taking over universities.

Comments welcome over there.

Oct 30, 2015 at 3:07 PM | Registered Commenter Paul Matthews
We continued to discuss it there.

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:31 PM | Registered CommenterDung

And with the entrance of the dreadful unmentionable with the usual personal attack, there goes an interesting discussion ...


Dec 3, 2015 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Just watched a fair bit of the Bristol debate, very entertaining, better than Question Time.

The bloke is well referenced, quick on his feet and quite humorous...bravo, I'll forgive him his badger hair. The poor chairman is doing his best but as you say is not sure how to interpret the rules. Even the "feminist loon" is quite likeable (relatively).

Oh and well done GeoffC at the Conversation. You have the skin of a rhino.

Dec 3, 2015 at 12:39 PM | Registered CommenterSimonW


You can't say something like this, and be taken seriously

I can be taken lightheartedly if you like. It's all the same to me.

The point is that Professor Maslin's argument was destroyed by a randomly assembled group of intelligent critics. A year later he came back and tried again, with no shame.

Because he's a professor you see, on a site financed by the taxpayer and a number of highly prestigious institutions. So it doesn't matter if his arguments are shot down in flames. The taxpayer, who's paying for it, will never know. And his fellow professors will rally round and defend him because, well, because.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:00 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

The massive increase in the number of universities must inevitably involve a drop in standards, an increase in the number of useless, undemanding courses and a large number of lower ability students with plenty of time on their hands.

A splendid breeding ground for activists to exploit.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

The point is that Professor Maslin's argument was destroyed by a randomly assembled group of intelligent critics. A year later he came back and tried again, with no shame.

No, the point is that it almost certainly was not. That doesn't mean that a random group of people don't think that they have, but given who you've named, I would be genuinely surprised if they have. There is a point at which what someone says seems too ludicrous to be taken seriously. I think you've just passed it.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics

Just when I was about to post some arguments that favoured universities, ATTP (Edinburgh Uni) strolls in and destroys what little evidence I had to justify my position:(

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

George Lawlor, a student at Warwick, recently wrote this article for their house magazine. It is cogent, concise, articulate and reasonable, so he has, inevitably, been pilloried for it, including exclusion from classes!

I wish Private Eye would bring back 'wimmin'.

And there's this...


Dec 3, 2015 at 1:09 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Pointman's point about Asian universities is a good one, and rather suggests that it might not be universities in general which are in decline but our western civilisation, our universities just being an early symptom.

I taught English in a French university, and in some classes French students were outnumbered by Chinese and Africans. The latter wanted to learn English; the former wanted a pass mark so they could proceed to the next stage in the long march to finding a job. If I geared the course to the keen Chinese and African students, I annoyed the French ones. You learn to compromise, and end up perpetrating the system you rail against.

What have we got to oppose the forces of neutered, self-regarding, politically correct mediocrity? Not a lot except grumpiness, I'd say. Let's build on that.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:14 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

A.T.T.Physics almost certainly was not... I would be genuinely surprised if ... There is a point at which... too ludicrous to be taken seriously.
You haven't looked. You won't look. You don't need to look. You just know.

And then there was Galileo. [You just love us quoting Galileo don't you? It makes you go all funny.]

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:20 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Schrodinger's Cat

Another little secret of the a*** end of the university system is that many full time students only attend between 2/3 days a week. A lot of them have what amounts to full time jobs. I found this out on a video course when no one turned up for shooting b/c they were working in Tesco or Sports Direct.

The university gets the fees, the lecturers get paid, the students gets a degree, wages and a student loan. It's party time. Everyone's happy. Unfortunately the lecturers actually aren't at all happy, quite the reverse. I turned down my last job at over 50 (too old for monkey business).

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Ian Blanchard probably has it right. The problem has been there for many decades, though it may be getting worse.

But, as he says, "Those of us in Science and Engineering faculties could easily keep out of the way of the 'social science' nonsense, and I suspect for the vast majority of students at British universities this remains true.." .

I found this to be true at American and UK universities.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:27 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

You haven't looked. You won't look. You don't need to look. You just know.

I did. I was involved in the comments on the last article, and I've read some of your comments on the recent one. The bigger point is the idea that it was somehow trashed by a selection of commenters. What you, and they, believe is rather irrelevant. I've also read some of your comments on the most recent post.

This, for example,

1850-1950: emissions 0-1 gigatons per year: temperature rise 0.5°C

1950 – 2010: emissions 2-8 gigatons per year: temperature rise 0.5°C

I rest my case.

You might have rested your case, but the evidence is pretty flimsy. I don't even think the numbers are quite right. You should also either consider all forcings, or try to extract the CO2 attributable warming. That's the main point about the cumulative emissions argument. The CO2 attributable warming appears to depend roughly linearly on total emissions. Throwing out some semi-random numbers doesn't refute that.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:36 PM | Unregistered Commenter...and Then There's Physics

This thread is about the future of universities. Please take anything else to the discussion forum.

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:39 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

geoff chambers

thank you for several laughs there

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:45 PM | Registered Commentertomo

View from Russia on the dumbing down effect of a 'politicized and substandard education system'. Just one man's opinion but quite an interesting read, especially as it was penned some 6 years ago.

American capitalism gone with a whimper

" It must be said, that like the breaking of a great dam, the American decent into Marxism is happening with breath taking speed, against the back drop of a passive, hapless sheeple, excuse me dear reader, I meant people.

True, the situation has been well prepared on and off for the past century, especially the past twenty years. The initial testing grounds was conducted upon our Holy Russia and a bloody test it was. But we Russians would not just roll over and give up our freedoms and our souls, no matter how much money Wall Street poured into the fists of the Marxists.

Those lessons were taken and used to properly prepare the American populace for the surrender of their freedoms and souls, to the whims of their elites and betters.

First, the population was dumbed down through a politicized and substandard education system based on pop culture, rather then the classics. Americans know more about their favorite TV dramas then the drama in DC that directly affects their lives. They care more for their "right" to choke down a McDonalds burger or a BurgerKing burger than for their constitutional rights. Then they turn around and lecture us about our rights and about our "democracy". Pride blind the foolish........."

Dec 3, 2015 at 1:49 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

"I wonder what will replace them?"


Dec 3, 2015 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

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