Universities are like any other institution. They evolve, they devolve. Sometimes they rise out of the ashes, and sometimes they go the way of the dodo bird. But they always morph. So though I’ve recently come to co-awfulise with my colleagues, I figure we’ve had a pretty good innings, and so if it’s time we walk off clutching our pensions into the sunset, let’s at least do it with grace.
We used to talk philosophy in the hallway. Now it’s 24/7 global warming or albino-lives-matter. We used to recruit for merit. Now certain people need not apply. We used to hire tenure track. Now we hire sessional only, if we hire at all. We used to wrestle with our students in real time. Now we post pre-recorded lectures online. We used to honour the thinkers amongst us. Now our bean counters are doing pigmentation checks.
Did we have it coming? Well, literally yes. But not in the sense that we were, in Dylan’s words, “block[ing] the hall”. And certainly not in the sense that we were privileging orthodoxy. Hell, we had young Earth creationists and Holocaust deniers! In the new woke university there is no revisiting history, no use/mention distinction, no acknowledgment that slaves too owned slaves. In short the university has become precisely what Jonathan Haidt worried it would, that mission statement would be replaced by mission, and the mission would have nothing to do with the search for truth or the education of students.
But let’s be fair. Most of our universities were founded as theological institutes, and remained so until less than a hundred years ago. Universities in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and Maoist China were boot camps for political officers. So the independence we’ve enjoyed has been as privileged as it’s been rare and short-lived.
Our only grounds for complaint – if grounds it be – is that it wasn’t the widow who finally tired of paying her mite for our self-indulgences. It was a small cadre of people who realised it would be easier to earn a BA in grievance-studies than in anything useful.
Our only sin, in turn, is failing to realise how vulnerable the institution is, and to have failed to show the requisite spine before it was too late. But now it is too late. Too late for self-pity, and too late to pity the generation of students who’ll never have learned that the n-word is not itself the word to which the n-word refers. Come to think of it, what is the n-word? I think I’ve forgotten.