This short article can be read together with the one from yesterday on how neoliberalism is turning universities into extremely lucrative playgrounds for administrators. As business interests reign, teaching and research are being wrecked.
On January 1st, Theresa May had the wisdom of appointing Toby Young as university regulator. This is a top job in the UK. To the credit of many, it did not take ten minutes for a storm to break loose. That is very good, because Toby Young should not be near this position.
Since Young has no defence, he is playing the attack: the opposition to his appointment only shows that the left has no sense of pluralism. Many of those who criticise Young then felt obliged to reaffirm their belief in pluralism. I don’t. I do object to Young because he is a Tory. Young exemplifies what the Tories want and what they stand for. Does anyone believe that anyone at the top of the conservatives does not wholeheartedly agree with Young’s positions? They are only less vocal about it, although even that is relative. Does one has to be reminded of Lord Freud’s vile comments about social benefit claimants, the unemployed and sick and disabled people, Reese-Mogg’s admiration for food banks or Iain Duncan Smith’s defence of DWP policies which, it has been proved, are responsible for the death of tens of thousands?
Luckily, many are getting all worked up about Toby Young. Danny Blanchflower added that the rest of these regulators do not look any better – none seem to have any experience at any top 100 ranked university beyond an undergraduate degree. As he wrote:
“It is totally outrageous to appoint a clueless bunch of never beens and ideological nobodies” (I do not know how to reference tweets, but it is all correct).
There, someone who’s intellectual accomplishments are not in any doubt said it. Indeed, what is Katja Hall – no PhD or research experience – but former head of HSBC, a bank that has been implicated in corruption and tax evasion, doing in a position as regulator of higher education? What is Elizabth Fagan – no PhD or research experience – CEO of Boots UK doing there? It has been estimated that Boots has avoided well over £1 billion in UK tax. Why is Simone Levine – again no PhD or research experience – CEO of DLA Piper, a firm that designs “the most advantageous structure yielding optimal after-tax results, lowering effective tax rates or otherwise achieving our clients’ commercial and tax specific goals” a university system regulator? There are others – an actress, a student who is the president of a football club – shamefully laughable, indeed.
“I’ve worked at Harvard and Cambridge, I am a visiting fellow of the University of Buckingham, a Fulbright Commisssioner and, as the co-founder of four free schools and director of @theNSN, I have some experience of innovation in the public education sector,” Toby Young wrote. Enough lies. Cas Mudde (who wrote several books on the extreme right) reminded Young that he had been a “teaching fellow” at Harvard and Cambridge:
“In other words, you were a student! Even now you are just a “visiting fellow” at a private Tory university. You are a cultural warrior living off your daddy’s academic reputation.”
Frances Coppola added that:
“You did some teaching as a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, and some teaching as a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard. But you have never held a university teaching post or done any significant academic research. You didn’t even complete your doctorate”.
Nazir Afzal let the world know that he applied for the position:
“I thought,” he wrote on Twitter, that “as pro-chancellor of one university, governor of another, 2 honorary doctorates from others, a honorary fellowship and visiting lecturer at 3 more, I might get an interview. I didn’t. Clearly I wasn’t what they were looking for!”
In the meantime, Labour demands that May cancels Young’s appointment, as his ‘misogyny and homophobia’ is unacceptable:
“If she (May) fails to rethink this appointment, the message Theresa May is sending to students is that under the Tories, misogyny and homophobia will not just be tolerated but rewarded,” said a Labour spokeswoman (here). Here is a link to an overview of tweets Young sent over the years and that he is now deleting. Too low to deserve comment.
Okay, so Young is not competent for this position, he lied about his career and he has a long history of misogyny and homophobia (see here). All of this is bad enough, but it is actually worse, much, much worse than that. Last year, I wrote some articles documenting and analysing what I consider post-democratic and fascist tendencies in the UK. I know that some people find this over the top. I sincerely hope that they are right, although I have to say that it worries me that they seem so certain. I fail to understand why we identify- with all the reason in the world, no question about it – such tendencies in the Ukraine, Hungary and Poland (and I could add some more of our allies), but not in the UK. What, essentially, are the differences between May and Orban (see, for example, here)?
Here are a few of Toby Young’s statements:
“Inclusive. It’s one of those ghastly politically correct words that have survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be ‘inclusive’ these days. That means wheelchair ramps (…) and a Special Education Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. If Gove is serious about wanting to back O-levels the government will have to repeal the Equality Act because any exam that isn’t “accessible” to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be “elitist” and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law”.
The solution to all this degeneration is what Young calls “positive eugenics.” Policies of “embryo selection” are to be offered to couples with low IQs from disadvantaged backgrounds. This could, in his opinion, reduce the gap between the mean IQ of children of the least well-off and those of the most well-off and this might, in turn, decrease the income gap between them in later life, hence it is “progressive” (see here and here and here).
Young described working class grammar school boys who secured places at Oxford as “universally unattractive” and “small, vaguely deformed undergraduates.” Writing about class in a 1988 book (The Oxford Myth) Young recounted how working-class students were “stains.” “It was as if all the meritocratic fantasies of every 1960s educationalist had come true and all Harold Wilson’s children had been let in at the gate,” Young wrote (see here).
I will get to how Young himself got into Oxford. It wasn’t on the basis of promise.
In an interesting article from 2016, Simon Hattenstone (see here), cites Young:
“In a wholly meritocratic society, where status is entirely dictated by a combination of IQ and effort, the people who aren’t successful don’t have an excuse for being unsuccessful, and since the vast majority of people will be unsuccessful in a meritocratic society, the vast majority of people will be unhappy and feel worthless. (…) Philosophically, the main shortcoming of meritocracy is that a society in which your status is determined by your natural talents is no fairer, given that natural abilities are distributed at birth in a way which is random from a moral point of view, than a society in which your status is determined by inherited wealth, which is equally random from a moral point of view” (see here).
Despite all this complete nonsense, Toby Young calls himself an avowed meritocrat:
“I don’t think there is any chance the meritocratic society my father envisaged will ever emerge. And as a counter to nepotism, it can play a very useful role” (see here).
Hattenstone recalls that on the day he spoke to Young, Owen Smith, then candidate for the Labour leadership, gave a speech in which he talked about equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. It is this vision that terrifies Young:
“The problem with equality of outcome is that it involves too great an encroachment on human rights in order to bring it about. In every society in which there have been state-led efforts to bring about equality of outcome, there has been the abandonment of free speech, the imprisonment of dissidents and sometimes state-sanctioned torture and mass executions. In order to bring about equality of outcome, you need to set yourself at odds with human nature” (see here).
Utter nonsense from ideological nobodies, just as Blanchflower says. The story of how Young got into Oxford is now in the open. I guess everybody knows it by now. Young failed his entry exam – he ended up getting two Bs and one C. He received a letter from the admissions tutor, Harry Judge, who pointed out that he had failed to meet their ‘extremely generous’ conditional offer (it referred to a pass in one foreign language). Judge was disappointed that Young had not even made an attempt to get an O-level in a foreign language. Judge concluded that Oxford could not offer him a place and wished him good luck somewhere else. The time had arrived for Toby’s father, the sociologist Michael Young, to call Judge, hoping that a small and irrelevant clerical error would reverse the decision. Toby got in. The lesson he learned: regardless of how unlikely your chances of success, never give up. Sheer bloody-minded will work against the odds. Yes, for Toby Young.
I have no intention whatsoever of delving into the debate on meritocracy, it simply is not where the problem lies. It is the Tories and their collaborators that are the problem. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg accomplished, by their utter incompetence, exactly the opposite to what (sane) economics told them to do, which is to spend out of a recession, not cut investment and raise taxes. The enormous consequences, the social carnage of these fateful policies can now be seen everywhere and in the meantime not a single problem has been solved. Indeed, as Blanchflower writes:
“Osborne simply did not understand the economics involved. He did not care about anything else than political games and scoring political points – his main aim was to shrink the state and hurt those most in need of help and support.”
“These fools put politics and shrinking the state ahead of the welfare of the people – unforgivable to kill off demand and target the poor and the disabled – Osborne, Clegg and Cameron at best were power mad con men”, Blanchflower writes.
Now Toby Young is telling us all about the dangers of meritocracy.
Two last things. I have limited experience in teaching ‘non-traditional’ students – mature students coming from deprived areas. These students often lack self-esteem and self-confidence and they find it difficult to deal with all the barriers that universities are so good at in putting up. These students turned out to be massively motivated people, they were interested, hungry to learn and to do well and they were interesting. It was a world apart from a regular student who informed me one day that I shouldn’t do too difficult because, as he paid tuition fees, he was, in fact, a customer, so in reality I was working for him.
I also do not have the slightest intention of delving into the bottomless IQ-debate. Yes, some people are more gifted than others. Studies have shown that childhood poverty and deprivation lead to lower IQ scores. Studies show that the capacity of the mother to tell bed stories to young children is enormously important. Apart from the curse of material deprivation, cultural divides have been documented a bit everywhere (youngsters consider schooling superfluous as they opine that they will never get anywhere anyway, so anyone who tries to do well is a traitor to the “lads”). The problem is that real and fair chances are sorely lacking. One study, from Cork, established that children from a deprived area showed intellectual dysfunction at age 5 – before entering elementary school. It is getting worse and worse, with poverty and inequality rising and a welfare state which does not function as it should. All of this is the result of economic policies of geniuses like Cameron and Osborne, which made everything worse for practically everybody, although no doubt they continue to do very well. Osborne is now a lecturer. I wonder what he is teaching.
It is not only Toby Young who has to go. They ALL have to go. This is not an attack on pluralism. If someone produces a study we do not agree with, so be it. We can live with it. We can discuss it. But university regulators arguing against disabled students, working class students, proposing eugenics for those with low IQs – if we let this go, we have lost the plot.