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January 11, 2019


steve lindsey

That's a very selective quote from Adam Wagner; he goes on to say that having ideas challenged is, on balance, a good thing.


If we looked at things from a clinically market-oriented point of view, could we say that Finnis's Oxford is like a world-renowned restaurant with very rude staff? (The BCL, which is all Finnis teaches, is very expensive, in great demand among future lawyers, and highly prized by their future recruiters.) If the restaurant continues to cook sublime food, and continues to be hopelessly over-subscribed, while charging effectively what it likes, why should it worry about the threat of consumer dissatisfaction of a kind which (as consumers' revealed preferences show) is utterly marginal? Of course lots of very good restaurants notoriously make just this assessment.


I don't see why seats of learning should not elect to differentiate themselves along those lines.

Perhaps institution a. could position itself as an austere place where a foible-rich, unaccommodating professoriate concentrates fearlessly on pure enquiry or whatever and institution b. could seek to attract those desirous of the full range of deferences they have come to expect.

That's presuming of course that the current wave of identitarian territory-marking is in fact driven by market forces rather than the insistences of bourgeois ideology.


The last point seems the most important. Universities had a distinct and important role in society. Trying to turn them into businesses destroys that role. Society is poorer if everything is a business. Perhaps just another way of saying that financialisation is harmful.

Jeremy Morris

Agree about the way it is surprising how tolerant students are considering... (but also in terms of lecturers actually failing to teach them effectively and with care). Regarding thought experiments - I've often found that students cannot divorce this from their ideas about the imputed opinions of the lecturer, to my chagrin!

As I blogged yesterday, I'm more concerned about the anti-intellectualism of the front-line providers of the marketised uni, than about the commercialisation effects on students!

Ralph Musgrave

Chris argues in item No.3 above that making all and sundry feel "comfortable" is justified because it's normally the majority (e.g. his "white public schoolboys at Oxford) who make others feel "uncomfortable". You might as well argue that murder by women should be excused because a large majority of murders are committed by men.

Moreover, the idea that a minority cannot make a majority feel uncomfortable is sheer nonsense. Homosexuals are a small minority of the population, but they have successfully made the wicked "majority" feel uncomfortable about opposition to homosexuality over the last fifty years or so, and quite right. And in the case of Oxford, a small minority, namely Muslims, may succeed in making the majority of the population there feel "uncomfortable" if those Muslims succeed in their attempt to broadcast their call to prayers over loudspeakers all over Oxford city: an attempt which will almost certainly succeed at some stage given the onward march of Islam (supported by the UK’s political left).


"I mean at the point of use. Students have in the past paid for their education out of taxes on their enhanced earnings."

And they're not now? The loan system is a thinly disguised graduate tax, thats all. You might as well say that every UK citizen upon reaching 18 is given a massive debt called a 'citizen loan' in order to pay for its place in the UK, which can only be extinguished by paying income taxes.

Lee Lost

There is an other side this where students get to abuse staff via mechanisms such as https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/student/your-voice-matters/tell-us/.

Feedback from students is vital to improving delivery. That should not be in question. At some institutions voice of the student has become an mechanism for students to hide away from group interaction becaues they are shy. Staff members dare not now ask questions in lectures or demonstrate using students as helpers. This is the case in maths and engineering subjects, so not even a question of exploring philosphical issues aroudn gender and race. Senior management have implemented a process where if a student submits a comment, the staff member is guilty. This is ruining the mental health of staff members. Local GP's call it Tell Us Now depression.

Its the practical side of the same coin


There is, as you say, a distinction between a lecturer expressing his/her personal views and developing a thought-experiment or constructing an argument to see if it can be knocked down. The trouble for this argument is that pretty much all of Finnis's work that's been found problematic falls on the 'constructing an argument' side of the line: that's the business he's in. Now, when you've got five people in a department, all busy saying "let's suppose X... it follows that Y", and only one of them is saying "...it follows that homosexuality is morally repugnant", the chances are that that one person holds different - and more problematic - views on homosexuality from the other four. But Finnis has never, as far as I'm aware, nailed his personal colours to that or any other mast, and when challenged his response is always that he's building arguments and following where they go. Which gives me as an academic a certain amount of difficulty, as I think it's both (a) in general, totally valid and to be defended to the hilt and (b) in this case, self-defensive weaselling from an irritating reactionary (albeit a reactionary who used to be one of the three or four leading authorities globally in his field). I'm still going for (a), but reluctantly.

The Hirschman (exit/voice/loyalty) reference is interesting, but I wonder how far it goes in a scenario where the actual economic pressure that can be brought to bear is minimal, given the extraordinarily high costs of exit. Given those costs, I also feel there's some bad faith in the way the students' protests are grounded in their supposed rights as consumers - Oxford can turn to them and say "this *is* what you bought, three years of world-class scholarship in a secure and comfortable environment". (And, indeed, has done.) The question is surely what they have a right to expect *as students*, and conversely what they should be expected to put up with, as students (bearing in mind that all Finnis's current teaching is optional). Which gets us back to the personal trainers and the thought-experiments.

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