I have finally decided to start a weekly blog, to be published every Sunday morning, because on June 28th 2011 I was thrown all unwilling into the fast-paced world of cyber communication. As someone who went into academia because she liked reading books, I had still scarcely figured out how to use Facebook on June 28th, let alone post a blog, when it became suddenly and unpleasantly clear that I could no longer avoid full participation in the nationwide campaign against the assault on British people's access to Higher Education in the Humanities.
David Cameron told us last week that he wants top universities to put the ‘Great’ back into ‘Britain’. He does not see the paradox in issuing this mandate while cutting university funding. And at Royal Holloway University of London, a long-established, prestigious department is fighting for its life. That Department is my Classics Department, in the south quadrangle not far from the beautiful Victorian pediment carved into the original fabric of the college which boasts that it exists to foster the study of Homer, Shakespeare and Dante.
The attack is led by a new Principal spiritually descended from the Vandals who has met Classics staff only once, for an hour. Surely a nation that wants to advertise itself as a centre for cultural excellence does not dispense on a whim with the ancient Greeks who gave us the Olympics, democracy, and the best stories in the world—the Cyclops, the Argonauts, and Oedipus, the man who married his mother? Surely we might have something to learn from the Romans, who ran a world empire (including Britain) for centuries? We can’t afford to stand by and watch the demolition of an academic department with a global reputation, which has taken decades to establish, just because it might not show a profit next year. The value that world-leading scholarship in the Humanities adds to Britain’s brand is literally immeasurable, in that its enhancement of our country’s reputation can’t always be converted by the end of the next tax year into monetary terms. By its nature, an intellectual culture takes many decades to take root and mature. It takes only weeks to destroy.
- A version of this blog post first appeared in the London Evening Standard on September 29th 2011, and can be read online here.
- The Save Classics at Royal Holloway Facebook page is here.
- My new web page is here.