Servants to one master

December 12, 1997

THE only surprising fact regarding the extension of the government's control of the universities is that anyone should be surprised ("The Coalition of Two Worlds" THES, December 5).

The pattern of this relationship follows virtually all relationships of patronage that have ever taken place; at first the patron is honoured merely to be associated with the object of their admiration, they give generously and without care of the cost or expectation of consideration thankful simply to be seen as the champion of such talent.

For a short while the beneficiary luxuriates in being able to do just what they are good at without test or target. But in time nature takes its course, the benefactor finds other causes and objects equally worthy of its support, meanwhile the beneficiary falls into dependency and reliance on the relationship. Resentment grows on both sides: the patron begins to compare the objects of his generosity with other talents he might wish to sponsor, he has expectation and begins to make conditions for the continuation of his generosity.

Dependency leads to subservience; the recipient must do their sponsor's bidding, they begin to disappoint, the patron makes more and more demands, the more demands, the more the beneficiary is found wanting. Finally, the patron loses patience with the relationship; the recipient is no longer a magical partner, is no longer the object of wonderment but a servant who is far from perfect. No longer are they free to develop their art. Now they must perform the menial and ordinary errands of their master.

There is only one mystery in the development of the relationship between the universities and the government: why did the universities let themselves become dependant upon one patron?

Anthony Farr, Hammersmith, London W14

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