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If Thine Eye Offends Thee


Mummy, Why Have They Closed My School?

by Kenneth Lyen

"If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out." - Matthew 18:9

When I was an undergraduate, I could never understand why people studied Classics.

"What's so good about Classics?" I asked my Oxford college mate, "Ancient Greek and Latin are dead languages, of little value nowadays. I'm surprised they haven't closed the department."

My friend was shocked by my philistine views.

Well, it's now my turn to be shocked.

"Architecture?" I uttered in astonishment. "Why not Classics?"

Apparently Cambridge University is contemplating closing its department of architecture.

"Are they stark raving bonkers?"

What is even more amazing is that architecture is a highly-rated department, consistently ranked within the top two British schools of architecture by the Guardian newspaper, doing quality research, and is a popular subject among undergraduates. So why the closure?

More shocks were to follow (I'm a bit behind in my news, so the chronology may be out of sync). Seven universities have closed their undergraduate chemistry department: King's College London, Queen Mary, Swansea, Exeter, Dundee, and Anglia Polytechnic University, and the Open University. Even my alma mater, Oxford University's chemistry department is £1 million in debt, but so far it remains open, but only just.

Exeter will also close its music department, and Reading is planning to follow suit. Durham University is planning to close its departments of east Asian studies and linguistics. Newcastle upon Tyne and Keele will scrap physics, Birmingham will axe its cultural studies.

In contrast, the University of Wales at Swansea is planning for a slow death of its departments of sociology, anthropology, the Centre for Development Studies, philosophy, and chemistry departments, by stopping recruiting students and allowing them to "shrink naturally", according to Professor Richard Davies, the new vice-chancellor.

What an avalanche! To say that British universities are in crisis, is an understatement!

I even heard in jest (I hope), a professor of a medical school suggesting that they close their unprofitable department of psychiatry. "Let’s join in with all this madness!"

But while unprofitable departments are being closed, some profitable departments are being expanded. The University of Wales at Swansea will expand its departments of history, English, computing, psychology, geography and the new management school. Exeter will start a new school of bioscience to replace its chemistry department closure.

British universities are resorting to radical surgery to excise gangrenous departments, hoping to stop the rot from spreading to the rest of the body. 

"If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee."

Perhaps if it administered lifesaving antibiotic funds over the past few decades, such drastic actions would not have been necessary.

"What about Classics?" I asked, after sitting silently for a while.

"Oh, Classics is still alive and well."


9 December 2004