Dumbing down: hit or myth? 1

February 28, 2008

Most of us will have found the article on student illiteracy ("The kids aren't all write", 21 February) uncontroversial and will have identified with its sentiments and the experience it expresses. What we will also have understood is the author's decision to remain anonymous. In the modern corporate university there are some truths that cannot be told. The Government doesn't want to hear them, the institutions and the vice-chancellors don't want to hear them, departmental heads don't want to hear them; in fact, most of our colleagues don't want to hear them. These truths - in particular the colossal dumbing down of academic standards in our universities - simply cannot be voiced in public by those grappling with them on a daily basis.

And how ironic that you should publish the anonymous academic's article virtually next to a leader that seems oblivious to this ("Waging a one-sided culture war"). In it, the editor tries to argue that the new managerialism in universities, the culture of "targets, strategic goals and mission statements", is here to stay, and that at bottom we academics know that and therefore had better accept it, especially in view of the fact that it isn't so bad after all and the British university is not just "corporate crap" but still has a relatively open culture and the dissemination of knowledge as its prime objective.

If the editor really thinks that this is true, why didn't he question the fact that an academic being open about his/her experience found it necessary to resort to anonymity? And why this doesn't seem to have conditioned his view of how open and "unique" universities really are?

This letter, too, will have to be anonymous for reasons perhaps everyone but the editor will understand.

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