The Woke New World and Academia

Last week, I conquered my fear of technology – to an extent – and firstly attended a seminar at Northampton University where the presenter was a friend of mine – who I have never actually met – and the subject was anti-poaching.

The following day two friends – who I know well – took me through the technicalities of delivering a talk through Zoom. They were patient with my obvious ineptitude and by the end of it, I almost felt confident in my own ability to do such a talk, but two or three days later, that confidence is wearing a bit thin. Nevertheless, thank you Simon and Bill for your efforts.

But let’s get back to that seminar. Kate was very lucid and put forward a well thought out and logical pattern for collecting data for her forthcoming thesis, but by the time the session ended, I found myself bewildered by the way both she and her questioners spoke. Is this routine language in the lofty halls of academia I wonder? I mean, what on earth does ‘phenomenology’ mean – and there were many other words that had me scrabbling for a dictionary – yes, I still use one.

My main thought when it was over – and Kate later told me that most of her audience were distinguished academics – is that it is no wonder that universities appear to have lost touch with reality.

Take Leicester University for example. A few years ago it was rated among the top ten institutions of higher learning in this country. Yet they have slipped rapidly down that particular ladder and are now ranked in the very low twenties – twenty-ninth if I remember correctly. But one of the few fields in which Leicester does appear to be excelling is that of political correctness. Here, it is truly world-beating. Indeed, against stiff opposition, one might justifiably declare this humble seat of learning to be Britain’s most ‘woke’ university.

Take, for example, this week’s kerfuffle involving Leicester’s once-esteemed English Literature department. Last Wednesday, staff were abruptly told by their superiors that they want to drop Geoffrey Chaucer and other great medieval writers from the syllabus. Apparently, these titans of English literature are no longer deemed to be worth studying. Instead, management used an email to outline proposals to create a curriculum devoted to ‘diversity.’

The highly controversial plans mean that tutors who specialise in the 14th-century writer, widely known as the ‘father of English poetry,’ now face redundancy, as potentially do colleagues who teach such apparently unfashionable texts as Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

The work of John Donne and Christopher Marlowe will also be side-lined and in their place will come a diverse array of modern writers, many of whom cover such modish topics as race relations and feminism.

This will allow Leicester’s new-look English course to cover what the email describes as: ‘a chronological literary history, a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability modules.’

This apparently is what today’s young students, who must pay fees of around £10,000 a year to study English at Leicester, ‘expect.’ Do they really? I find that difficult to credit and should the proposals be implemented, around sixty academic staff will lose their jobs.

In a press release, Leicester has named two of the writers who will remain on the curriculum as the African-American novelists Toni Morrison and Colson Whitehead. (Unfortunately, the press release managed to mis-spell Mr Whitehead’s first name as ‘Colston’, which just so happens to be the surname of the 17th-century slave trader whose statue was pulled down and thrown into Bristol Harbour last June.)

To critics like me, already chuntering about dumbing-down, that error may be a final straw.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this week accused the university of ‘absolute madness,’ (For once he has got something right!) while even the ultra-liberal University and College Union dubbed the plans ‘short-sighted and intellectually void.’

Let’s face it, Geoffrey Chaucer may not have shared modern attitudes to race, sexuality, or gender, but his work was highly progressive for its era – the Wife of Bath for example, is often dubbed the first feminist icon.

But this week’s absurd row was not an isolated incident and neither did it occur by accident. Instead, Geoffrey Chaucer appears to represent the first major casualty in an ill-thought-out campaign by Leicester’s £250,000-a-year vice-chancellor, Professor Nishan Canagarajah to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.’

He arrived in November 2019, and promptly undertook a trendy rebranding exercise in which Leicester adopted a new PR slogan: ‘Citizens of Change.’ The term is now plastered across university literature and social media channels, where it is often used in place of the term ‘students’ to describe undergraduates.

In other words, it repositions Leicester, not as an institution of academic excellence but, instead, as a sort of happy-clappy teaching ground for tub-thumping campaigners, demonstrators and activists.

Last March, this hotbed of liberal change attracted nationwide ridicule for re-branding International Women’s Day as ‘International Womxn’s Day,’ declaring that the term was more friendly to the transgender community.

‘We use the term womxn as a more inclusive spelling of woman that includes any person who identifies as womxn,’ read its newsletter. What?!

Would I sound terribly cynical if I pointed out that a better way for Leicester to demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights might be to actually pay them the same as men. According to the university’s most recent gender pay gap report, its female staff currently earn a paltry eighty two pence for every pound their male colleagues take home. Moreover, it reveals that men who work there are nearly fifty per cent more likely than women employees to get a bonus. And when they do, that bonus tends to be sixty six per cent bigger.

Then, in June, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests, Professor Canagarajah gave a prominent interview to the Press Association in which he declared that universities must do more to ‘diversify’ their workforce and recruit more staff and students from ethnic minorities.

‘When you have a large proportion of ethnic minorities, like in Leicester, we need to make sure they can identify with that curriculum,’ he said. ‘But I think there’s still more work to be done to truly decolonise the curriculum.’

‘Like in Leicester?’ Hardly apt for an English professor!

English is not the only field in which Leicester started to make headline-grabbing contributions to the culture wars, either. On the history front, to cite another topical example and one I ranted about recently, the university took the helm of the National Trust’s highly controversial ‘Colonial Countryside’ programme, which has seen it invite teams of schoolchildren into its properties to lecture staff and visitors about the horrors of the British Empire.

Leicester’s contribution to the programme is led by Professor Corinne Fowler, a Left-wing academic who appears to devote a hefty and perhaps unhealthy portion of her free time to picking arguments on Twitter.

As I wrote in my rant, her attitude to rural Britain is perhaps evident from the title of her recent book, Green Unpleasant Land, which dubs the countryside ‘a terrain of inequalities’ and suggests gardening and botany are racist because, ‘the scientific categorisation of plants has at times engaged in the same hierarchies of ‘race’ that justified empire and slave and slavery.’

Professor Fowler also edited the National Trust’s provocative and error-strewn ‘gazetteer,’ detailing alleged links between its properties and colonialism. Published in September, it named and shamed the former home of William Wordsworth, even though he was a lifelong campaigner against slavery on the grounds that his brother once sailed to the Far East; as well as those of Rudyard Kipling because he wrote about the British Empire and Winston Churchill, whose entry managed to ignore his achievement in saving the world from the Nazi holocaust.

One can only wonder why a major national heritage charity with billions of pounds in assets was entrusting such an important research project not to Oxford or Cambridge, but instead to an establishment whose history department is currently ranked 73rd in the UK, behind the likes of Canterbury Christ Church, Edge Hill and tinpot Greenwich.

In its defence, Leicester says it remains proud of its work for the Trust and with regard to the row over Chaucer said this week: ‘There is absolutely no truth to the suggestion that certain modules are being eliminated for being ‘too white.’

It added: ‘We want to offer courses that match our students’ own interests and enthusiasms, as reflected in their own choices and the feedback we have been hearing.’

Perhaps vice-chancellor Canagarajah thinks his ‘Citizens of Change’ programme will improve the university’s financial fortunes. Maybe he believes Leicester’s ongoing role in the culture wars will persuade a generation of politically correct school leavers to apply to his university and swell the rapidly depleting coffers.

If that is the case, there may be further choppy waters ahead. For as the topical saying goes, people who choose to go ‘woke’ often seem to end up going broke.

Yet while I find this disturbing enough, I am horrified by the BBC and their new online resource programme for teachers.

In a video entitled Identity – Understanding Sexual and Gender Identities, produced as part of this programme, a group of schoolchildren aged between nine and twelve discuss the issue with teachers and it is not easy to watch.

Of course, there is nothing to trouble the woke police here- this is the Beeb after all. ‘What does stereotypes mean, Miss?’ (Answer: they are bad). ‘What’s the difference between sex and gender?’ (Answer: sex is the body parts you are born with; gender is who you feel inside). And more guff in that vein.

‘There are soooo many gender identities,’ gushes one teacher, while her bemused charges nod dutifully. ‘Over a hundred,’ she adds excitedly, as though sexual self-selection were just different flavours at the pick and mix counter in those far off days when shops were open.

Here we have powerful authority figures actively encouraging impressionable youngsters to question their sexual identities – at a stage in their lives when sex is not even – or shouldn’t be – on the agenda. It is a masterclass in indoctrination. At the licence fee payer’s expense too. Before they have even dipped their toe in the world of adult desire, these children are being taught to question their own bodies.

Gender dysphoria – a serious and distressing condition that I wouldn’t wish on anyone – is presented as something really exciting and special, worthy almost of a gold star.

This is not ‘education’ dammit!  It is bordering on ruddy child abuse.

All I could think of as I watched those fresh faces listening with wide-eyed concentration was poor Keira Bell, the young woman who recently won her case against the Tavistock and Portman Trust, the NHS gender reassignment clinic in London. 

Keira bravely came forward to testify that her desire, at the age of sixteen to transition from female to male had been encouraged by adults who seemed less interested in her wellbeing and more focused on pushing an agenda. An evil agenda that ultimately led to her embarking on a course of hormone blockers which she now deeply regrets.

These children in the BBC video are much younger than Keira. How many of them – and how many of those in schools up and down the land who have been taught according to these guidelines – will now find that the worm of self-doubt has been planted in their brains where none previously existed? And how many will grow up to make irreversible changes to their bodies which, like Keira, they may live to regret?

So yes, let us protect so-called ‘trans’ people by all means, but let’s not teach our children to hate the bodies they were born in.

Changing the subject only slightly, this bordering-on-the-collectively-insane government have brought out a new Coronabug advertising campaign – obviously designed to scare us witless. It shows a series of photographs depicting supposedly dying patients in hospital masks and challenges viewers to ‘look him in the eyes and tell him the risk is not real.’

I think they are trying to make those of us who seriously question the efficacy of lockdown, while never for one moment denying that the Coronabug is a serious threat feel like worms for merely having doubts.

Yet they could easily substitute that patient in a mask for a schoolboy and caption it, ‘Look him in the eyes – and tell him that his future does not matter.’

Or for that matter, a cancer patient – ‘look her in the eyes and tell her that her lump is not real.’

Serious it might be, but the Coronabug is not the only thing that is killing people in Britain and no amount of emotional blackmail from Bunter J and his inept bully boys is going to change that.

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