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特里·伊格尔顿:大学的缓慢死亡

特里·伊格尔顿:大学的缓慢死亡

Terry Eagleton

《复旦教育论坛》2015年第13卷第4期,第5-8页。
伊格尔顿在2010年文章中曾指出,大学和发达资本主义在根本上是无法调和的。

几年前,一位校长不无自豪地带领我参观一所规模庞大、技术先进的亚洲大学。与其显赫的威势匹配,校长身边各站一位身着黑色西装、身材魁梧的年轻保镖。要我猜啊,他们的外套底下都携带着卡拉什尼科夫冲锋枪(Kalashnikovs)。在滔滔不绝地盛赞光鲜耀眼的商学院和政府管理学院后,他停下来期待我说几句谄媚的恭维话。结果,我大煞风景地说学校似乎没有任何形式的批评研究。他茫然不知所措地看着我,就好像我问他每年授予多少钢管舞博士学位一般。他悻悻地回答说"我们注意到了你的评论。"接着他从口袋里掏出技术最先进技术的一个小玩意儿,打开后对着它说了几句韩国话,估计是"干掉他。"接着开过来一辆像板球场那么长的豪华轿车,校长在两位保镖的簇拥下上车走了。看着他的轿车消失在视野中,我还愣在那里想他的杀人命令会在什么时间开始实施。

这一场景发生在韩国,但也可能出现在这个星球的几乎任何一个地方。从南非好望角到冰岛雷克雅未克,从澳大利亚的悉尼到南美圣保罗,像古巴革命或者入侵伊拉克一样引人注目的重大事件正在稳步展开中:那就是大学作为人文批判中心的缓慢死亡。在英国拥有800年历史的大学通常被嘲笑为象牙塔,这种指责总是有些道理的。但大学在自身和整个社会之间建立起来的隔阂可能是祸福相依的,既给大学带来了力量也使其无能为力,一方面对热衷于短期现实利益的社会秩序、价值观和目标进行反思,一方面还能做到自我批评。在整个世界,批判性空间已经减少到所剩无几的地步,曾经培养出像伊拉斯谟、约翰•弥尔顿、爱因斯坦和英国六人喜剧团体蒙提派森(Monty Python)的大学如今也匍匐于全球资本主义冷酷无情的优先选择下。

本文说的大部分情况对美国读者来说都是非常熟悉的。毕竟,斯坦福和麻省理工就是公司型大学的典范。但是,英国的情况是所谓的无财富的美国化,至少是没有美国私立大学那样富裕的美国化。

这对英国贵族的传统学校牛津剑桥来说也是真实的,它们的学院过去几个世纪以来一直在某种程度上抗拒慷慨捐款的更广泛经济力量的侵蚀。几年前,我从牛津大学系主任位置上辞职(这是像爱丁堡发生地震一样罕见的大事),因为我意识到人家期待我在某些方面像企业首席执行官而不是学者。

30年前当我首次来到牛津任教时,这种专业主义倾向会遭遇到有教养的蔑视。真正认真读完博士学位的同事们有时候使用"先生"而不是"博士"的头衔,因为博士暗示一种不够绅士的劳动。出版著作被认为是很庸俗的行为。10年才发表一篇关于葡萄牙语的短文或古代迦太基(Carthage)人饮食习惯的论文也不觉得有什么不可。曾经有个时期,学院的老师甚至懒得为本科生安排辅导时间。相反,本科生只是顺便到老师的办公室拜访,喝一杯雪利酒后,兴奋地闲聊一会儿简奥斯汀或胰腺功能而已。

如今,牛津剑桥仍然保留了寄宿制的大部分作风。是教授们决定学院的钱该如何投资,花园里该种植什么花,会议室里要挂谁的画像,如何向学生们解释为什么把钱花在葡萄酒地窖而不是学院图书馆上。这一切都由教授们决定。所有重要决策都是学院全职教师做出的;从经济到学术到学院日常管理的任何决策都由经过竞选产生的负责整个教师群体的学界委员会管理。最近一些年,这种自我管理的可敬体系开始遭遇大学权力集中模式的的挑战,就是这种挑战导致我离开这里;但是总体上这种制度还算牢固。恰恰因为牛津剑桥的学院在很大程度上是前现代机构,因为规模小能够作为去中心化的民主模式运作,虽然持续享有某些令人作呕的特权。

在英国其他地方,情况有很大的不同。不是教授管理而是等级管理,一个庞大的拜占庭官僚体系,年轻教授不过是勤杂工,校长的派头似乎就是在管理通用汽车公司。高级教授现在就是高级经理,口口声声谈论的是审计和问责。书籍被当作穴居时代的、令人昏昏欲睡的前技术时代现象,越来越遭到人们的蔑视。至少有一家英国大学已经对教授在办公室里应该拥有的书架数量作出限制,目的是限制"个人图书馆"。废纸篓变得就像茶叶党知识分子一样罕见,因为现在纸张已经成为过时的东西。

市侩管理者在大学里张贴了大量没头没脑的标语,用非常粗俗且不太通顺的词句发布各种公告和指示。北爱尔兰一校长强行征用校园里唯一的公共房间,那是师生都使用的会堂,却被校长拿来当作私人餐厅,以便在此招待地方头面人物和企业家。当学生们占据会堂抗议时,校长竟然下令学校保安砸碎手边的公共厕所。过去多年来英国大学校长一直在摧毁自己的大学,但很少像这样字面意义上搞破坏。在同一所校园,保安会把学生带走,如果发现他们在漫无目的闲逛的话。理想的情况是大学里面根本没有衣冠不整、行为难以预测的家伙。

在这种大溃败中,人文科学首先被挤到墙角。英国继续分配大学拨款给理学、医学、工程之类学科,艺术领域已经不再能分配到可观的资源。如果这种状况不改变,整个人文院系在未来若干年关门倒闭不是不可能的。如果英语系真的幸存下来,很可能是给商学院学生讲授分号的使用,这可不是加拿大文学理论家诺思罗普•弗莱(Northrop Frye)或美国著名社会文化批评家与文学家莱昂内尔•特里林(Lionel Trilling)心中的情景。

人文院系现在必须主要通过从学生那里收的学费来勉强维持,这意味着几乎完全依靠这种收入来源的小型学院事实上已经通过后门私有化了。英国这么长时间以来正确抵制的私立大学越来越近了。但是,卡梅伦政府已经指导学费的大幅度上涨,这意味着依靠贷款并背上巨额债务的学生理所当然地要求高水平的教学质量和更能满足个人需要的对等,因为他们在人文院系急需资金支持时提供了金钱。

而且,在英国大学,教学在一段时间以来一直不像科研那么吃香。科研能带来金钱,而印象主义或宗教改革课程不能。每隔几年,英国政府就要对全国大学进行一轮彻底的评估,用非常详细的指标衡量每个院系的科研成果,政府拨款就是据此评估结果来分配的。因此,教师缺乏投入教学的积极性,对他们来说有众多理由为了发表而写作,炮制完全不知所以的论文,开办肤浅的在线期刊杂志,申请横向科研资助,不管是否真的需要这些,但有了这些东西在填写个人简历时总是很开心。

无论如何,得益于管理意识形态的繁荣和国家评估的无情要求,英国高等教育官僚机构变得日益庞大。这意味着大学教授们很少有足够的时间备课,即使值得这么做,反正在过去几年没有。国家评估官员奖励的是那些带有错综复杂脚注的长篇论文,很少是面向学生或广大读者的畅销教材。大学教授很可能通过暂时离开大学而提升大学的地位,即放弃教书专门从事科研的学术休假。

如果教授们完全放弃学术研究而且去参加马戏团,因而能为财务处长节省工资支出,让官员能把他们的工作分摊在已经不堪重负的教授们身上,这样将提高资源利用率。除了少数能够吸引来大批客源的名家外,英国许多大学教授意识到大学是多么热切地渴望看到他们离开。事实上,大学里渴望早些退休的讲师大有人在,考虑到英国学界在过去几十年是个温馨宜人的地方,现在对许多员工来说是个非常令人不愉快的场所。然而,政府当局已经打算削减教授退休金了。

随着教授转变为经理,学生随之变成了消费者。大学为了学费不惜抢生源,以致落得斯文扫地。一旦客户安全进入大门,教授们就被施压,不得让学生考试不及格,否则可能面临学费丧失的危险。普遍的想法是如果学生考试不及格,那是教授的错,就好像在医院里,病人的死亡是医生的责任一样。这种眼睛盯着学生钱包的做法,其后果之一是越来越多的课程在迎合20多岁年轻人的潮流。在我任教的英语学科,这意味着讲吸血鬼而不是维多利亚时代,讲性而不是雪莱,讲"粉丝"杂志而不是福柯,讲当今世界而不是中世纪。因此,根深蒂固的政治和经济势力开始影响课程设置。任何一所大学的英语系如果把精力集中在盎格鲁撒克逊文学或者18世纪文学将无异于割喉自杀。

因为渴望学费,英国有些大学现在允许学业并不出色的本科生继续攻读研究生,而海外留学生(通常被迫支付高昂的学费)可能在没有熟练掌握语言的时候就开始攻读博士学位了。长期以来,英语系瞧不起创造性写作,认为这是美国人搞的粗俗玩意儿,现在却迫不及待地聘请名不见经传的小说家或蹩脚诗人,为的是吸引潜在的作家托马斯・品钦(Pynchons)大军。学校非常清楚他们看中的是学费,学生的第一本小说或者诗集被伦敦出版商出版的机会很可能比你醒来后发现自己变成了大甲壳虫的机会还小。

教育确实应该对社会的需要做出回应,但是这并不等于把你自己当作新资本主义的接待站。事实上,如果你挑战整个异化的学习模式的话,将更有效地满足社会的需要。中世纪的大学能够非常好地服务于整个社会,就是因为他们培养了牧师、律师、神学家和帮助维持政教合一的管理官员,而不是对不能快速带来金钱利益的思想活动不以为然。

但是,时间已经变了。在英国政府看来,所有公费资助的学术研究现在必须将自己视为所谓的知识经济的组成部分,能对社会产生可测量的影响。航空工程师比古代历史学家更容易测量这种影响。制药厂商可能比现象学家更擅长玩这个游戏。不能从私有企业吸引利润丰厚的科研资金的学科或者不大可能吸引大量学生的学科将陷入慢性危机的困境中。学术优势被等同于筹款能力,而受到教育的学生被重新定义为能找到工作的人。对古文书学家或者货币学家来说,这不是好时候。这些职业名称我们很快就不能拼写出来了,更不要说做这种工作了。

在教育体系的下游---中等学校,我们也能感受到人文学科被边缘化的影响。现代语言陷入陡然衰落,历史意味着现代史,古典学的讲授很大程度上仅限于伊顿学院这样的私立机构。因此,伊顿公学出身的伦敦市长鲍里斯•约翰逊(Boris Johnson)经常在其公众声明中点缀贺拉斯的诗句。

哲学家确实总是在街道拐角设立人生意义咨询台,现代语言学家驻扎在战略公共领域,抓住任何一个需要翻译的机会。总体上,要点是大学通过扮演企业的附属品必须证明自己存在的合理性。正如政府报告令人心寒地论述,大学应该作为"咨询组织"来运作。事实上,大学已经变成了营利性产业,多数都在经营旅馆、音乐会、体育比赛、餐饮设施等。

如果英国的人文学科分支开始枯萎,那主要是因为它们受资本主义势力驱动的结果,同时还缺乏资源。(英国高等教育缺乏美国那样的慈善捐款传统,主要是因为美国的百万富翁比英国多太多了。)另外,与美国社会不同的是,英国高等教育在传统上不是被当作可被买卖的商品。事实上,正如苏格兰那样,当今英国大部分学生可能认为高等教育应该免费。虽然这个观点有一定程度的自我利益考虑,但也有一定的合理性。就像保护年轻人不受系列杀手的伤害一样,教育年轻人也应该被视为社会的责任而非赚钱的产业。

我本人接受国家奖学金资助,在剑桥大学读了7年书,却没有支付一分钱的学费。的确,在给人留下印象的时代,这种严重依靠国家的结果是我变得没有骨气和道德,不能独立自主,也不能在必要的时候用手枪保护家人。在依靠国家的怯懦行为中,我一直打电话求助当地消防部门而不是用自己粗硬起茧的双手去扑灭大火。即使如此,我愿意用任何数量的男子汉独立性来交换在剑桥的7年时光。

在我的学生时代,英国人口中只有5%的人能够上大学,有人说今天这个数字已经增加到50%,国家已经负担不起这样的慷慨之举了。但是,只举一个例子,德国仍然为其相当大规模的学生提供免费教育。严肃考虑将年轻一代身上的沉重债务负担撤去的英国政府可以通过对超级富豪的增税以及追讨每年偷漏的数十亿税款来实现其目标。

也要积极恢复大学作为现代社会少数领域之一(另外一个领域是艺术)的光荣传统,在这个社会中支配性意识形态应该受到严格的审查。要是人文学科的价值不在于和这种支配性意识形态保持一致,而在于与之不一致,又会怎样?这种一致性并没有价值。在前现代时期,艺术家比现代的艺术家更加彻底地融入外面的社会,其原因部分在于他们通常是意识形态理论家、政治权力代言人或者维持现状的吹鼓手。相反,现代艺术家在社会地位上没有这样安全的壁龛,但恰恰因为这个事实,他或她能够拒绝把虔敬视为理所当然。

但是,除非出现更好的体制,我自己已经决定顺从命运的安排,接受冷酷无情的市侩观点和粗俗的功利性价值观。说来有些难为情,我现在已经在课程开始之初就询问研究生:是希望我讲授有关文学著作的最佳见解,还是用一些说得过去但不那么焕发才智的评论凑合一下?

靠提出见解收费是惹人讨厌之事,这或许不是与学生建立起融洽关系的最有效办法,但它似乎是当今学术氛围下符合逻辑的演变结果。对那些抱怨这将在学生中造成厚此薄彼差别对待的人而言,我应该指出,那些不能交钱换取我做出最深刻分析的人完全可以通过易货贸易的方式。比如送给我刚刚烤出来的面包、自家酿造的啤酒、手工编织的毛衣、手工制作的结实的鞋子等:所有这些都可以接受。毕竟,生活中除了金钱,还有其他东西。

特里•伊格尔顿 著 吴万伟 译

英文原文

The Slow Death of the University

A few years ago, I was being shown around a large, very technologically advanced university in Asia by its proud president. As befitted so eminent a personage, he was flanked by two burly young minders in black suits and shades, who for all I knew were carrying Kalashnikovs under their jackets. Having waxed lyrical about his gleaming new business school and state-of-the-art institute for management studies, the president paused to permit me a few words of fulsome praise. I remarked instead that there seemed to be no critical studies of any kind on his campus. He looked at me bemusedly, as though I had asked him how many Ph.D.'s in pole dancing they awarded each year, and replied rather stiffly "Your comment will be noted." He then took a small piece of cutting-edge technology out of his pocket, flicked it open and spoke a few curt words of Korean into it, probably "Kill him." A limousine the length of a cricket pitch then arrived, into which the president was bundled by his minders and swept away. I watched his car disappear from view, wondering when his order for my execution was to be implemented.

This happened in South Korea, but it might have taken place almost anywhere on the planet. From Cape Town to Reykjavik, Sydney to São Paulo, an event as momentous in its own way as the Cuban revolution or the invasion of Iraq is steadily under way: the slow death of the university as a center of humane critique. Universities, which in Britain have an 800-year history, have traditionally been derided as ivory towers, and there was always some truth in the accusation. Yet the distance they established between themselves and society at large could prove enabling as well as disabling, allowing them to reflect on the values, goals, and interests of a social order too frenetically bound up in its own short-term practical pursuits to be capable of much self-criticism. Across the globe, that critical distance is now being diminished almost to nothing, as the institutions that produced Erasmus and John Milton, Einstein and Monty Python, capitulate to the hard-faced priorities of global capitalism.

Much of this will be familiar to an American readership. Stanford and MIT, after all, provided the very models of the entrepreneurial university. What has emerged in Britain, however, is what one might call Americanization without the affluence - the affluence, at least, of the American private educational sector.

This is even becoming true at those traditional finishing schools for the English gentry, Oxford and Cambridge, whose colleges have always been insulated to some extent against broader economic forces by centuries of lavish endowments. Some years ago, I resigned from a chair at the University of Oxford (an event almost as rare as an earthquake in Edinburgh) when I became aware that I was expected in some respects to behave less as a scholar than a CEO.

When I first came to Oxford 30 years earlier, any such professionalism would have been greeted with patrician disdain. Those of my colleagues who had actually bothered to finish their Ph.D.'s would sometimes use the title of "Mr." rather than "Dr.," since "Dr." suggested a degree of ungentlemanly labor. Publishing books was regarded as a rather vulgar project. A brief article every 10 years or so on the syntax of Portuguese or the dietary habits of ancient Carthage was considered just about permissible. There had been a time earlier when college tutors might not even have bothered to arrange set tutorial times for their undergraduates. Instead, the undergraduate would simply drop round to their rooms when the spirit moved him for a glass of sherry and a civilized chat about Jane Austen or the function of the pancreas.

Today, Oxbridge retains much of its collegial ethos. It is the dons who decide how to invest the college's money, what flowers to plant in their gardens, whose portraits to hang in the senior common room, and how best to explain to their students why they spend more on the wine cellar than on the college library. All important decisions are made by the fellows of the college in full session, and everything from financial and academic affairs to routine administration is conducted by elected committees of academics responsible to the body of fellows as a whole. In recent years, this admirable system of self-government has had to confront a number of centralizing challenges from the university, of the kind that led to my own exit from the place; but by and large it has stood firm. Precisely because Oxbridge colleges are for the most part premodern institutions, they have a smallness of scale about them that can serve as a model of decentralized democracy, and this despite the odious privileges they continue to enjoy.

Elsewhere in Britain, the situation is far different. 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.

Teaching has for some time been a less vital business in British universities than research. It is research that brings in the money, not courses on Expressionism or the Reformation.

Philistine administrators plaster the campus with mindless logos and issue their edicts in barbarous, semiliterate prose. One Northern Irish vice chancellor commandeered the only public room left on campus, a common room shared by staff and students alike, for a private dining room in which he could entertain local bigwigs and entrepreneurs. When the students occupied the room in protest, he ordered his security guards to smash the only restroom near to hand. British vice chancellors have been destroying their own universities for years, but rarely as literally as that. On the same campus, security staff move students on if they are found hanging around. The ideal would be a university without these disheveled, unpredictable creatures.

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.

Humanities departments must now support themselves mainly by the tuition fees they receive from their students, which means that smaller institutions that rely almost entirely on this source of income have been effectively privatized through the back door. The private university, which Britain has rightly resisted for so long, is creeping ever closer. Yet the government of Prime Minister David Cameron has also overseen a huge hike in tuitions, which means that students, dependent on loans and encumbered with debt, are understandably demanding high standards of teaching and more personal treatment in return for their cash at just the moment when humanities departments are being starved of funds.

Besides, teaching has been for some time a less vital business in British universities than research. It is research that brings in the money, not courses on Expressionism or the Reformation. Every few years, the British state carries out a thorough inspection of every university in the land, measuring the research output of each department in painstaking detail. It is on this basis that government grants are awarded. There has thus been less incentive for academics to devote themselves to their teaching, and plenty of reason for them to produce for production's sake, churning out supremely pointless articles, starting up superfluous journals online, dutifully applying for outside research grants regardless of whether they really need them, and passing the odd pleasant hour padding their CVs.

In any case, the vast increase in bureaucracy in British higher education, occasioned by the flourishing of a managerial ideology and the relentless demands of the state assessment exercise, means that academics have had little enough time to prepare their teaching even if it seemed worth doing, which for the past several years it has not. Points are awarded by the state inspectors for articles with a bristling thicket of footnotes, but few if any for a best-selling textbook aimed at students and general readers. Academics are most likely to boost their institution's status by taking temporary leave of it, taking time off from teaching to further their research.

They would boost its resources even more were they to abandon academe altogether and join a circus, hence saving their financial masters a much grudged salary and allowing the bureaucrats to spread out their work among an already overburdened professoriate. Many academics in Britain are aware of just how passionately their institution would love to see the back of them, apart from a few household names who are able to pull in plenty of customers. There is, in fact, no shortage of lecturers seeking to take early retirement, given that British academe was an agreeable place to work some decades ago and is now a deeply unpleasant one for many of its employees. In an additional twist of the knife, however, they are now about to have their pensions cut as well.

As professors are transformed into managers, so students are converted into consumers. Universities fall over one another in an undignified scramble to secure their fees. Once such customers are safely within the gates, there is pressure on their professors not to fail them, and thus risk losing their fees. The general idea is that if the student fails, it is the professor's fault, rather like a hospital in which every death is laid at the door of the medical staff. One result of this hot pursuit of the student purse is the growth of courses tailored to whatever is currently in fashion among 20-year-olds. In my own discipline of English, that means vampires rather than Victorians, sexuality rather than Shelley, fanzines rather than Foucault, the contemporary world rather than the medieval one. It is thus that deep-seated political and economic forces come to shape syllabuses. Any English department that focused its energies on Anglo-Saxon literature or the 18th century would be cutting its own throat.

Hungry for their fees, some British universities are now allowing students with undistinguished undergraduate degrees to proceed to graduate courses, while overseas students (who are generally forced to pay through the nose) may find themselves beginning a doctorate in English with an uncertain command of the language. Having long despised creative writing as a vulgar American pursuit, English departments are now desperate to hire some minor novelist or failing poet in order to attract the scribbling hordes of potential Pynchons, ripping off their fees in full, cynical knowledge that the chances of getting one's first novel or volume of poetry past a London publisher are probably less than the chances of awakening to discover that you have been turned into a giant beetle.

Education should indeed be responsive to the needs of society. But this is not the same as regarding yourself as a service station for neocapitalism. In fact, you would tackle society's needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning. Medieval universities served the wider society superbly well, but they did so by producing pastors, lawyers, theologians, and administrative officials who helped to sustain church and state, not by frowning upon any form of intellectual activity that might fail to turn a quick buck.

Times, however, have changed. According to the British state, all publicly funded academic research must now regard itself as part of the so-called knowledge economy, with a measurable impact on society. Such impact is rather easier to gauge for aeronautical engineers than ancient historians. Pharmacists are likely to do better at this game than phenomenologists. Subjects that do not attract lucrative research grants from private industry, or that are unlikely to pull in large numbers of students, are plunged into a state of chronic crisis. Academic merit is equated with how much money you can raise, while an educated student is redefined as an employable one. It is not a good time to be a paleographer or numismatist, pursuits that we will soon not even be able to spell, let alone practice.

The effects of this sidelining of the humanities can be felt all the way down the educational system in the secondary schools, where modern languages are in precipitous decline, history really means modern history, and the teaching of the classics is largely confined to private institutions such as Eton College. (It is thus that the old Etonian Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, regularly lards his public declarations with tags from Horace.)

It is true that philosophers could always set up meaning-of-life clinics on street corners, or modern linguists station themselves at strategic public places where a spot of translation might be required. In general, the idea is that universities must justify their existence by acting as ancillaries to entrepreneurship. As one government report chillingly put it, they should operate as "consultancy organisations." In fact, they themselves have become profitable industries, running hotels, concerts, sporting events, catering facilities, and so on.

If the humanities in Britain are withering on the branch, it is largely because they are being driven by capitalist forces while being simultaneously starved of resources. (British higher education lacks the philanthropic tradition of the United States, largely because America has a great many more millionaires than Britain.) We are also speaking of a society in which, unlike the United States, higher education has not traditionally been treated as a commodity to be bought and sold. Indeed, it is probably the conviction of the majority of college students in Britain today that higher education should be provided free of charge, as it is in Scotland; and though there is an obvious degree of self-interest in this opinion, there is a fair amount of justice in it as well. Educating the young, like protecting them from serial killers, should be regarded as a social responsibility, not as a matter of profit.

I myself, as the recipient of a state scholarship, spent seven years as a student at Cambridge without paying a bean for it. It is true that as a result of this slavish reliance on the state at an impressionable age I have grown spineless and demoralized, unable to stand on my own two feet or protect my family with a shotgun if called upon to do so. In a craven act of state dependency, I have even been known to call upon the services of the local fire department from time to time, rather than beat out the blaze with my own horny hands. I am, even so, willing to trade any amount of virile independence for seven free years at Cambridge.

It is true that only about 5 percent of the British population attended university in my own student days, and there are those who claim that today, when that figure has risen to around 50 percent, such liberality of spirit is no longer affordable. Yet Germany, to name only one example, provides free education to its sizable student population. A British government that was serious about lifting the crippling debt from the shoulders of the younger generation could do so by raising taxes on the obscenely rich and recovering the billions lost each year in evasion.

It would also seek to restore the honorable lineage of the university as one of the few arenas in modern society (another is the arts) in which prevailing ideologies can be submitted to some rigorous scrutiny. What if the value of the humanities lies not in the way they conform to such dominant notions, but in the fact that they don't? There is no value in integration as such. In premodern times, artists were more thoroughly integrated into society at large than they have been in the modern era, but part of what that meant was that they were quite often ideologues, agents of political power, mouthpieces for the status quo. The modern artist, by contrast, has no such secure niche in the social order, but it is precisely on this account that he or she refuses to take its pieties for granted.

Until a better system emerges, however, I myself have decided to throw in my lot with the hard-faced philistines and crass purveyors of utility. Somewhat to my shame, I have now taken to asking my graduate students at the beginning of a session whether they can afford my very finest insights into literary works, or whether they will have to make do with some serviceable but less scintillating comments.

Charging by the insight is a distasteful affair, and perhaps not the most effective way of establishing amicable relations with one's students; but it seems a logical consequence of the current academic climate. To those who complain that this is to create invidious distinctions among one's students, I should point out that those who are not able to hand over cash for my most perceptive analyses are perfectly free to engage in barter. Freshly baked pies, kegs of home-brewed beer, knitted sweaters, and stout, handmade shoes: All these are eminently acceptable. There are, after all, more things in life than money.

Terry Eagleton is a distinguished visiting professor of English literature at the University of Lancaster. He is the author of some 50 books, including How to Read Literature (Yale University Press, 2013).

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Slow-Death-of-the/228991/

 

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