“The Slow Death of the University”

For the Chronicle of Higher Education, Terry Eagleton reflects on the “slow death of the university as a center of human critique.”  He worries that, as British universities have been forced to contend with the mounting pressures of global capitalism, they are increasingly making changes that threaten traditional academic life.

As Eagleton explains, outside of Oxbridge, British universities have begun to resemble corporate entities:

Instead of government by academics there is rule by hierarchy, a good deal of Byzantine bureaucracy, junior professors who are little but dogsbodies, and vice chancellors who behave as though they are running General Motors. Senior professors are now senior managers, and the air is thick with talk of auditing and accountancy. Books — those troglodytic, drearily pretechnological phenomena — are increasingly frowned upon. At least one British university has restricted the number of bookshelves professors may have in their offices in order to discourage “personal libraries.” Wastepaper baskets are becoming as rare as Tea Party intellectuals, since paper is now passé.

These trends towards the professionalization have been nowhere more harmful than in humanities departments, Eagleton claims:

In the midst of this debacle, it is the humanities above all that are being pushed to the wall. The British state continues to distribute grants to its universities for science, medicine, engineering, and the like, but it has ceased to hand out any significant resources to the arts. It is not out of the question that if this does not change, whole humanities departments will be closed down in the coming years. If English departments survive at all, it may simply be to teach business students the use of the semicolon, which was not quite what Northrop Frye and Lionel Trilling had in mind.

Read the full article here.