Wednesday 26 May 2010

Philosophy at Middlesex: Boethius and the barbarians revisited

A guest-post by Paul Tyson, Australian Catholic University

How did it happen? How did it come to pass that our universities employ more administrators than academics and that many academics are now powerless in the decision making processes that directly impact the intellectual standards and scholarly viability of their own faculties? How did it happen that the university became a business interested in growing its market share by strategic plans that entail the sacrifice of any school not central to what the administration determines is the university’s corporate brand? How did it come to pass that academics in a university are merely human resources that the administration uses, or dispenses with, or abuses, at will, and students are merely consumers, not even of the intellectual products the academic human resources deliver, but of the corporate brand image of the university?

The “reality” imposed on academics and students by “their” administrations is often this: academics exist to facilitate the corporate goals of university administrations and students are merely the paying consumers of the vocationally useful brand image which the “university” sells. It now seems fabulously old fashion to believe that university administrations exist in order to facilitate the work of academics in the education of students. Gone, it seems, are the days when a university was at core a place interested in learning for the sake of learning, for the sake of the pursuit of truth, for the sake of the humanizing value of being educated. The passing of that pedagogic vision means that the soul of the Western university is now in its death throws; and it is being killed not by barbarians from the outside, but by barbarians from within.

What is going on at Middlesex University is a revolt. This revolt is an attempt to cast off the shackles of administrative barbarianism and to remind us all what the heritage of the Western university is really all about. This is not simply an ideological matter, it is also a matter that has very tangible consequences for universities themselves. For the reality is, barbarian-managed universities are living off the non-renewable capital of past reputation. Such ransacking of what makes a university a university, without any re-investment into the academic health of the institution today, can only kill the successful corporate university in the medium to long term.

But those sorts of horizons do not worry high-level administrators. They get a very nice corporate lifestyle in the meantime, as they drive “their” university into the dirt. The large corporate management culture cares nothing for the intrinsic value of learning or for the sustainable health of a learning institution: its brief is only to market the short term effectively. To this end the administration must always be cutting costs (never corporate), in order to produce a greater financial return for less capital outlay. Hence, “our” administrators are leaches sucking the lifeblood out of our learning institutions, bloating themselves at our expense. And they expect us to thank them for this.

The staff and students of the Philosophy Department at Middlesex are telling the world that the killing of the Western university at the hands of its own administration is a great cultural evil, and they are endeavouring to stop this evil. If precedent is anything to go by, the Philosophy Department does not have a high chance of success. Many Western university administrations have already killed off or permanently crippled their humanities programs in recent years. While there is often a bit of a rough patch while academics lose their jobs, and a few students get thrown in the paddy wagon for being a nuisance, the deed is simply done, and things go on as usual (for the administration) once the dust settles. But it is vital that the staff and students of Middlesex triumph over their administrative barbarians. The trajectory of precedent must be turned around.

So, to the real university at Middlesex – the academics and the students who seek truth and love learning – stand together and fight on! To the barbarians who run that university: repent! To the rest of us around the world watching as the shadows of a new dark age gather, let us support the real university at Middlesex however we can. They must win, or the past 800 years of Western university tradition are in peril of being lost.

To follow the Middlesex debacle, you can get regular updates here.


Karl Hand said...

I agree that the whole situation in Middlesex is diabolical.

But do you think using the rhetoric of 'pure academia' - as you say the "heritage of the Western University" is a good answer?

Academia IS a commodity - a material structure which should be used for the good of all the people - and for the ends of the people, not for the intellectual stimulation of an elite class called 'academia'.

JKnott said...

Some good points, Ben. However....

"How did it come to pass that academics in a university are merely human resources that the administration uses, or dispenses with, or abuses, at will, and students are merely consumers, not even of the intellectual products the academic human resources deliver, but of the corporate brand image of the university?"

How did it come to pass that ANY are treated as "merely human resources," and why, given how many people are and have been for centuries or longer, should academics (of which I would like to some day count myself as a member) get a pass? The would-be "left" of so many countries, UK included, have given up on socialism for the masses, but would seemingly want to hold on to it for the elites. This is a bad situation, no doubt, but more of a symptom than the root cause of the problem.

"Such ransacking of what makes a university a university, without any re-investment into the academic health of the institution today, can only kill the successful corporate university in the medium to long term."

Read your Badiou. This means the University is already dead. By warning of a future, impending death, you are seemingly accepting the values of your opponents: that is, you are saying that the REAL problem will come later when the uni. stops functioning as a cash-cow for the administrators. Is that ultimately a helpful line of critique?

Brian Lugioyo said...

Paul, The death of the Western University is but a signal that our consumer culture has been digging the grave of Western Culture (3000+ years of tradition). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that in a few decades no one will be learning Latin except a handful of PhD students doomed to unemployment. Classics departments were the canneries in the mine that died long ago. I wish you all the best at Middlesex.

JKnott said...

I just realized I should have been responding to Paul, not Ben.

Mich said...

1. The faculties in America threw in the towel in the 60's with barely a whimper
2. You are reaping the fruits of Neo-Liberalism --thank Reagan and Thatcher!

JKnott said...


You mean Reagan and Thatcher and those who gained power after them and didn't have the gonads to do anything differently, but keep blamming Reagan and Thatcher? How long, exactly, do the Democrats in the US and the Labour Party in the UK need to be in office before they can legitimately be blamed for what they either do themselves, continuing from the previous group in power, or at least refuse to reverse? Twenty years? Thirty? You tell me.

Paul Tyson said...


As Marx well understood, things are only commodities when their value is reduced to their dollar value (and of course, we ourselves are commodifed in this process). If you accept the outlook of homo economicus then only money has ‘value’ and all commodities (including people) are interchangeable. But this is the very mindset behind that which is diabolical at Middlesex.


You seem to be arguing for the egalitarian virtue of the mass culture industry over the elitist vice of Western high culture here, thus making it good that academics are dehumanized like everyone else. Then you want me to read Badiou! Should I not rather be reading the back of my cornflakes box? I can’t find any coherence in your stance.


This type of T.I.N.A. defeatism is exactly what the managerial barbarians want from us. Try reading Raj Patel’s “The value of nothing” – the fight is being engaged; perhaps our complacency is at issue here.

In sum – I am amazed that our edgy young theologians seem to have no idea about what is going on in our universities, and don’t seem to think it is that important. This is very discouraging. Very little actual knowledge of what is happening at Middlesex is apparent in the few comments posted, and very little understanding of what this means (and less interest in what it means) is apparent. We seem to have swallowed hook line and sinker the inevitability of the atomisation, economicisation and dissolution of the intellectual landscape of our high culture. Shame, young edgy theologians, shame.

Anonymous said...

This stark image sums up the zeitgeist that informs the left-brained reductionist intellectualism of the academy altogether--including of course most, if not all of the study of the various aspects of religion.

Anonymous said...

J Knott--me-thinks you should read Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt re the state of the USA body politic. And Dark Ages America by Morris Berman.

Plus if you do your homework you will find that the 8 years of the Bush "administration" were easily the worst 8 years in USA history.

Obama did not have a hope in hell of turning any of that around, especially as the GOP now only has one policy--NO.

Anonymous said...

Studying Latin and even the classics as an antidote to the decay of Western Civilization!

Oh puleez!

Victor Davis Hanson is an expert in the classics!!

Paul Tyson said...

Dear Anon
I had hoped readers of F&T would be opposed to “reductionist intellectualism” too. (What could be more intellectually reductionist than to value disciplines, staff and students only on the basis of how useful they are in procuring funding for “the university”? Here “the university” is, apparently, that corporate entity which is not comprised of academics, disciplines and students.) Sure, the Western academy is very, very sick, and maybe, like the Wester church, God is killing it because it doesn’t deserve to live. However, as a Christian academic I have a desire to see the terminally ill church and academy in the West healed rather than simply shot. And I thought probably most F&T readers were in a similar ‘Christian academic’ place too. So here is my analogy. If you have a very sick patient – dying from poisoning – do you think, ah, she’s not going to live, lets sell her kidney’s now whilst we can still get some money for them, or, (strange idea) could you think that her kidneys – even if they are in very bad shape – are fighting for her life and should be assisted in their detoxification role? And here, young edgy theologians, we come in. Should we not say, stop eating that cultural food, those ideological outlooks, these power relations; they are poisoning you. Here, we have some healthy food, try this.
Regarding VD Hanson and Latin. Reading Badiou at Middlesex University (one of the few British universities you could read him in John) might not stop you from being a right wing, gun loving, political realist Republican. And being an expert in Classical Greek might not stop you supporting the Nazi Party. But being culturally abandoned to the mass media, which is in the service of the prevailing military industrial complex, will certainly shrivel your political and theological imagination and reduce whatever slim prospect you may have of resisting the death box constructed for us by our prevailing Western powers. It amazes me that this is not obvious to F&T readers, and that we are not galvanized to fight the spiritual banality of our university administrators.

Karl Hand said...

Wow, Paul. You heard a lot in what I said that I didn't really say at all!

Whatever inspired things Marx may have uttered on the subject - there is still a difference between a 'commodity' and a 'mere commodity'. And all professions and jobs have to negotiate that distinction.

My point is simply that academia don't have some sort of gold card exemption from the material aspects of their work.

May I reccomend Walter Benjamin's "The Author as Producer" as the classical essay on this subject - and a fine example of a mature Marxist cutting through over-simplifications of Marx' thought.

JKnott said...


I don't know where you got "John," but that's not my name. But more to the substance, you say:

"You seem to be arguing for the egalitarian virtue of the mass culture industry over the elitist vice of Western high culture here, thus making it good that academics are dehumanized like everyone else."

What? What did I say that could possibly lead one to that? I'm simply saying that the problem of commodifying people is ubiquitous, that does not make it "good." I'm saying that if we only whistfully sigh when it happens everywhere else but the academy, and then really get upset when it goes there too, we run the risk of trying to create an elitist haven, which is not, in the end, what even the university should be. There is no suggestion here that what is happening is "good."

I don't know why people think I must be a Republican or Tory or whatever just because I try to puncture the self-satisfied whiggishness of the pseudo-left who has long ago given up on liberating the poor qua poor and gets sidetracked into trying to diversify the ruling classes, and create a kinder, gentler capitalism. How bad things are during Republican administrations is simply irrelevant to that point.

Anonymous said...

Academics from all over the world are united in their condemnation at the Middlesex administrators' shabby behaviour.

Very few, however, are urging their own institutions to part with a tiny fraction of their monstrous endowments so that a former polytechnic run on a shoestring can prop up a department that is struggling to keep its undergraduate numbers in double figures.

I'm not saying I think the management have got it right. But I think there is a complete lack of understanding from academics outside the UK that these "new universities" have NO MONEY AT ALL. Their endowments, if they have any, are barely sufficient to cover the cleaner's salary.

It's having NO MONEY AT ALL that leads the administrators to make rash and drastic cost-cutting decisions. It's a matter of life and death for these places. It's sheer desperation. They haven't been around for long, and if they can't attract undergraduates in a competitive market they will not be around for much longer.

Paul Tyson said...

Hi Karl
Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that you are saying I am trying to argue in defence of the merit of “pure academia”. That is I want academia for academia’s sake, so that people like me can live comfortably whilst not being productive, just playing ivory tower intellectual games (like, presumably, some comfortable Middlesex philosophy department staff member). Actually, I am not arguing for “pure academia” at all, though I am arguing that materially non-productive reflectiveness and the pursuit of truth and knowledge, for the love of truth and knowledge, is intrinsically worthwhile for all of us. (Indeed, this is what the Sabbath is about theologically.) That material things, money and bureaucratic facilitation are needed by academics is just a fact. But so what? The same is true for any organisationally supported activity. Our politicians and “educational” CEOs, however, are crass materialists in that use/dollar value is the only measure of worth they recognise, other than expensively puffed intangibles like corporate image. Hence they are blind to ANY intrinsic value in the university. (I won’t bore you with old fashioned notions of the teleological humanizing formational goals of education wrapped up in the worshipful disciplines of the pursuit of the transcendentalia in which the Western university tradition is grounded; neither Marx nor our Neocons or our care not Gen Ys would have a clue about that.) Hence Humanities are being dumped or generalised down to fee paying undergrad swill level (a la the Melbourne model) by “our” university managers at speed. I know, I was arrested at the closure of the Humanities/Social Science program, and the cessation of the Arts degree, at QUT in 2007. This trend is, I believe, a bad state of cultural affairs that impoverishes us all. I think we should fight it. I think Humanities/Social Science academics and students should not just lie down and get done over, and I think we should support those under direct threat who have obviously been doing a good job. But the atomisation and political alienation of students and staff, the cunning and brutal use of media/law/police by administrations, and the individualism and insularity of consumer culture formed self interest means most people – even in departments who are directly affected – just don’t give a shit. Do you give a shit Karl? Or should humanities academics just stop feeling sorry for themselves and if they want to study some idiot things like New Testament Greek in their spare time, they should at least do something really productive – say work at MacDonalds – during the day time? But they should not “work” in New Testament Greek.

Paul Tyson said...

Sorry JKnott – I don’t know where I got John from either. Also, my comment about right wing Republicans concerned Hanson, not you (please read it over). My point is that if one is concerned about dehumanization everywhere – yes, I know its ubiquitous – why should academics be excluded? You seem to have a kind of delight in presumably upper classish people getting treated like shit. Well I’m a fair trade buyer, I don’t have a job (I’m below the poverty line in Australia, but still a comfortable elite by global standards), I give to international aid etc, and matters of dehumanization rile me wherever I see them. And you are probably pretty well educated and pretty well off too – why this scorn for academics?
So you don’t want universities to be elitist havens. Two questions; how does teaching our own high culture to whoever wants to learn it make universities elitist havens? Second question: what do you want universities to be? Should they all be MBA and vocational colleges who only do research in private industry funded pharmacy etc? This is what they are becoming. Is getting rid of humanities programs making universities better places?

Paul Tyson said...

Dear Anonymous, please look at the Times Higher Education article by John Protevi (17 May 2010) titled “Why Middlesex matters”. The administration at Middlesex is by no means financially innocent, and the Philosophy program was by no means struggling at Middlesex. Yes funding is a very tortuous issue for universities like Middlesex, but this does not mean executive salaries are trimmed, bureaucratic machinery is minimized, or stronger faculties of a pragmatic bent are used to undergird a core commitment to more reflective and intrinsically cultural pursuits. These things are within the power of university administrations, but the administration at Middlesex has no interest in those sort of measures. Take the money for an excellent program and fire the staff is their approach.

JKnott said...


I continue to be a bit baffled by where your interpretations of what I said come from. Where do you get "delight" or "scorn" in my words? I considered what I said a fairly friendly critique. I never said that what is going on is a good thing. I'm going to repeat that: I never said it was good. AT ALL. It's bad. Very bad.

Also, I did not say that the university is an elitist haven if it has a humanities department, or a good one, or a philosophy department, or anything of the kind. I simply said that there is a danger when we get up in arms about university profs. being treated like commodities more than we do when others are so treated. Furthermore, as long as this crass way of thinking is everywhere BUT the university, we should not be surprised when it comes there, too. Which does not mean it's good (I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but I'm unsure why this has been confusing up to now). I DOES mean, however, that the fight has to be on a broader front, otherwise we do run the risk of creating an elitist institution. I think that is a real danger..not necessarily one you fall victim to, I might add, but all I said was "we run the risk.." which I think is a fair point.

Since you asked: Universities should be crucibles of ideas and spearheads of social and political movements that affect us all. Obviously, getting rid of philosophy, humanities, and even theology is a bad idea when one views it that way. I think the possible danger, on the other side, is a familiar one: when an institution or whatever which should serve a common purpose instead comes only to serve itself and some subset of the population. I think you'll agree there, actually. Sorry if I was not clear, but I do think you could have interpreted what I said in a more charitable manner or at least asked questions: by no means can I see how you could have thought my meaning was clearly what you thought it was.

And finally, I think my last critique of my first post has not been addressed, and got lost in the confusion (of which I will be willing to share the blame). Namely, when you warn that the university will not be lucrative in the future when the "brand" is devalued. Surely you can see that what I'm doing there is saying that a different line of critique would be preferable, which by no means implies that the thing being critiqued is actually good, does it?

Paul Tyson said...

Sorry JKnott if I am coming over heavy and aggressive. Here is why. What you are saying is on many points friendly to my ‘argument’, but (pace an ‘argument’) in an academic and qualified manner. What you are not saying is ‘this is terrible, what can we do – as F&T blogsters, institutionally affiliated thinkers and individuals – to support Philosophy at Middlesex?’. My piece on Middlesex is not seen as a call to action, it is not seen as a matter of practical political theology by any of the respondents, rather it is seen as an interesting issue to think about which offers ironic reflective opportunities on the no longer ‘sheltered’ academic (administrative aims and the politics of funding are more or less side issues). With this kind of intellectual culture university administrations can do whatever they like with academics. That is what is saddening me.

tinythinker said...

This is all very well and good, but how does it play out on the strategic or tactical level? In other words, what's the game plan? I straddle the natural and social sciences in my own work, with a nod toward the foundation of both offered by the humanities, but it isn't at all clear to me what people who are alarmed at the trends under discussion are supposed to do about them.

At the level of the universities, the process of corporatization has steadily undermined faculty influence on such affairs to the point where in many cases student preferences (i.e. consumer choice) could conceivably start to have a greater effect on program design and implementation than the instructors. Coupled with the insights contributed here and elsewhere that pseudo-rational utilitarian reductionism and brand-driven impulse consumerism are steadily eroding the perceived value of activities such as elucidating virtue or engaging in thoughtful reflection, what is happening in academia is (as mentioned) a symptom of a much broader cultural shift.

Much of what we deeply believe and value is shaped and reinforced by our collective narratives. In smaller, more isolated communities these narratives are preserved and rejuvenated through corporate activities such as oral tradition, dance and ritual theater. Larger communities incorporated grander public displays, including temples and cathedrals and mosques and eventually performances ranging from Kabuki to opera. In the contemporary plurality of (mass) media and competing ideologies, our collective narratives are subjective to fragmentation. The narratives may become entangled as amalgams of movie scenes and video game plots mixed with reality television, politics and religion. And even then, I somehow believe that our desire for a coherent narrative that is ethical and consistent with our experience of the world remains, much like how the children of those who speak a pidgin will create a creole – the birth of a new language.

For some reason I do not believe that students today are much different than students from 100, 1000 or 2000 years ago in their basic humanity. The same passions, fears, hopes and dreams are in their hearts. They may not express them the same way and certainly have many distractions which their predecessors lacked, but some aspects of our humanity are immortal – questions of our existence and mortality, of desire and despair, of justice and tragedy. If they are given the same chance to learn how to explore and express these aspects of their nature. To tune the strings of the narratives which bind us all together and to add their own voices. So then what is behind the shift? What is distorting the narratives? Is it a thing, a group, a process? Is it simply neo-liberalism run amok, the stirrings of globalization, or as Neil Postman prophesied are we simply amusing ourselves to death? Perhaps it is all of these things in concert or something more or something less.

Ironically, this is a time in history when the and practices and insights offered by the humanities are urgently needed to play a part in helping us make our way safely and sanely into a new era while reminding us that in some ways we have been here before and need to recall the lessons of our ancestors. How can we fight for the future if we have lost the past? If one is bothered by such trends, what concrete steps can be taken to remedy them or to turn them to an advantage?

Paul Tyson said...

Thanks Tiny, your post has the analysis that fits the facts as I see them, your question is the question that bothers me. Please, others, chip in!

joel hunter said...

As one feeding at the trough of academia myself, I stand with Paul in declaring solidarity with those in revolt at Middlesex and seeking ways to resist in the small ways I can locally. I admire the Luddite inflection of this piece (and I mean that as a compliment): there's nothing irrational about obsolescence-resistance. It is progress that the protesters aren't being shot by the British Army.

I've been listening to some conversations on related matters elsewhere, so I'll paraphrase what I think is applicable here. Universities are now in servitude to a system and a set of sociopolitical policies which require them to produce dutiful consumers of the goods and services of the markets, and debt-carriers for centralized services (including education!) and capital investment. I should say that what began as servitude has now become complicity.

A university education has become an expensive consumer good rather than an investment in a good society. The administrators of universities are certainly culpable for the barbarism. (I don't think they are nearly so high on the list of "winners" as you do, Paul...though no doubt enjoying the satisfactions of belonging to their rather exclusive coterie, I think they are by and large lobbyists of governors, legislatures and transnational corporations, and publicists of their institution's glossy annual reports of bold initiatives, values, strategies, and the rest of the arrant nonsense proclaimed with wide-eyed enthusiasm.) I would hold those officials and bureaucrats who have shaped public policy toward education in the last 50 years most responsible. The public has been told--and they have believed--that a canalized education consisting of a 4-yr undergraduate degree is the minimum requirement to get "a good job" and all its attendant rights, privileges, and benefits.

Easy credit, the inclusion of professional guilds as "colleges" in their own right alongside the arts & sciences, and the pressures and promises created by the general belief that "a college degree is essential," have resulted in a huge number of students going to college that in former eras wouldn't (they'd go to a vo-tech, a professional school, apprentice for a skilled job, etc.). The state does its part to extend cheap credit to the student-consumers, universities find themselves having to compete for students with expensive new structures, state-of-the-art recreational facilities, subsidized computers for every student, etc., retention of your paying customers becomes paramount, and look what we can make: an education bubble!

Just like the housing market in the U.S., the young graduate commences her new life with diploma in hand and, together with her would-be employer, finds that it has nowhere near the value that the cultural myth had told her it had.

Universities cannot depend on the public treasury to keep them out of bankruptcy: they need a high revenue stream of their own and high student population. But when funds for loans and credit are becoming more scarce, and the cost of educating a student on campus approaches (and perhaps surpasses) a faculty member's salary, it cannot be sustained.

Could universities have resisted their transformation into corporate enterprises? Yes, but administrators are by and large cut from the same cloth as bureaucrats and politicians and their institutions are thoroughly embedded in the controlling social techniques and system. What is needed is an anarchic alternative to the domain of university, inc. But while we work on that (New Lindisfarne?), let's keep sounding the alarm and seek public attention toward rethinking both the theory and practice of education.

Karl Hand said...


I certainly did not mean to make any claims about your motivations or the usefulness of your work. Quite to the contrary, what I am saying is that the humanities are materially useful. In the era of the "skills shortage," we tend to forget that human culture is an intrinsically worthwhile part of our *economy*.

And no, I don't think there is anything wrong with busting your hump at Maccas while you focus on God's Word. But it's better still to get paid to do so. However, given the choice, the apostle Paul chose the former, and worked a trade.

Err, one small query - are you going to be around at the ACU post-grad seminar in September? I may see you there?

Paul Tyson said...

Thanks Joel; fab post. I think we are living in some sort of parallel to Boethius and the collapse of the Classical age. The monasteries – in impoverished form, alas – took up the mantle of high culture then, what are our monasteries now? I would love to see you have a few thoughts on how we could actually try and re-configure the idea of ‘education’ so that we can do philosophy, theology, history, art etc, in ways that are not situated within the prevailing tertiary institutional context tied, as it deeply is, to the trend towards a vocationalized, consumerized, corporatized market ideology.

Karl - I'll be in Sydney for the Sarah Coakley symposium; hope t see you there.

tinythinker said...

Yes, Joel, very good.

Here in the US we have so denigrated "blue collar work" that many young people see such work as beneath them. With the continued assault on organized labor such jobs are not as appealing or as secure as they once were. We should be supporting the choice to go for vocational training in such areas and making sure they are worthwhile options. Even as our infrastructure crumbles and unemployment rises, as thousands of houses sit empty and millions are homeless, the mantra that one has to go to college continues, coupled now with the assumption that college is "just what you do" after high school.

I am NOT against anyone from any background who aspires to a university education being assisted in achieving that dream, but I am opposed when that dream is a false promise that turns into a nightmare. College education is marketed as a ticket to a better life and a secure future, and under the right conditions it can offer both. But how many never finish, or do finish, both with mountains of debt and an education that amounts to an obsolescence-prone set of skills and facts?

To really make the point, see the lovely ads we get here, such as this and this one. Make sure you are sitting first and if you drink have a stiff one in hand.

Paul Tyson said...

Too true Tiny. I’m not an edgy young theologian because I’m in my mid 40s, so I like to think of myself as an edgy flabby middle aged unemployed theologian. But being of this age, I remember when vocational colleges existed and were very good. In the late 1980s in Australia most of our excellent vocational colleges got ‘dumbed up’ to be market driven “innovative” (HATE that word) universities at the same time that our universities got ‘dumbed down’ to being market driven vocational training institutions. We got rid of our two-tiered tertiary education sector. This was the Dawkins reforms. Same sort of thing seems to have happened in the UK (why these trans-national rashes of political and administrative ideology?). In the late 1980s for a short period I studied the violin at a dedicated teaching college, the College of Advanced Education (CAE) in Adelaide. This was home to the principal violinist of the Australian String Quartet and the quality of teaching was outstanding. Once (early 1990s) the CAE got sucked into some business orientated Institute of Training and turned into a “university” its teaching – and particularly the ‘high’ cultural end of its teaching and particularly its hands on practical skills capacities – died in the arse. The resultant ‘polytechnic’ style university was a farce as a genuine vocational or practical training institute, and a nightmare as a university. MBAs, and ‘vocations’ such as law, marketing, media and commerce, are the only winners in this process. Genuine hands on skilled training and genuine reflective and conceptual work are now outsiders to ‘tertiary education’ in Australia. I am sure one is better off entirely without uni if you are really doing something practically useful. Brad, my local butcher, is a great case in point. He is a great butcher who works a 12 hour day 6 days a week, he really knows his meat and his customers, and he does very well (as he should). He left school when he was 14 and he has the money to send his kids to the ritziest schools in Brisbane. I have a PhD and I can’t get work and I can’t afford to send my kids to ‘good’ schools. For, whilst real practical and real entrepreneurial types don’t need uni, what about practically incompetent and entrepreneurial duds who are have reflective and conceptual callings? If the universities are no place for them, where do they go? How can we re-think genuine guild type practical formation, and genuine (in Plato’s sense) academic communities? How? Any ideas anyone? [Because I can’t see any answer to that question I still think denouncing the farce of the standard university model pursued by administrations such as at Middlesex, and trying to reclaim universities for real academics is our best option at this point.]

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