The grey philistinism in Irish universities
The ‘anti-intellectuals running Irish universities’ have been attacked by Tom Garvin, professor emeritus of politics, University College Dublin. In an article published in the Irish Times back in May (I know, I know. It’s July and I’m only reading this now!)) Garvin says, ‘A grey philistinism has established itself in our universities, under leaders who imagine that books are obsolete, and presumably possess none themselves.’ He reserves his most withering criticism for his own institution:
UCD, an historically respected Irish university, increasingly resembles an English provincial college, run on authoritarian top-down lines, profligate financially, and anti-intellectual. What is referred to with surrealist humour as “intellectual leadership” in UCD is in the hands of medics masquerading as businessmen (they’re nearly all men; welcome to 1961) and practitioners of non-subjects such as “management” and “teaching and learning”.
It should be dawning on us that one of the nation’s most valuable assets, third-level education, has been taken over by non-academic forces by means of a gigantic and very expensive hoax. The universities are our collective brains, and hatred of them is silly and unpatriotic.
The people who are “running” Irish universities claim, falsely, to be businessmen running enterprises which will bring greater economic growth. These people are truant academics, running universities while having no idea what universities are for. Anti-intellectualism automatically leads to the glorification of ignorance, and this country is well on the way from the former to the latter.
It’s going to cost us.
The problem with this article is that it won’t stimulate debate at all (though I’d like to think I am helping him a little here). Throwing around personal insults and somewhat exaggerated invective is unlikely to open minds or change them. The argument presented by Tom Garvin deserves some attention, but to achieve that it needs to be formulated as a contribution to debate rather than as a playground catcall.
The DCU President also responds to Garvin’s argument that ‘idle curiosity’ should have an integral place at the heart of academic activity. He asks:
to what extent should the modern academy accommodate people who will pursue in their own work, and encourage students to pursue, the search for knowledge outside of national priorities or areas of strategic focus? Or put another way, can higher education encompass both the strrategic pursuit of knowledge and skills, and the general search for knowledge in an open-ended and open-minded process? Tom Garvin’s view appears to be that the former is always improper, and the latter is almost lost. He may be wrong on both counts – I believe he is – but it is an important question and it merits a proper debate.