This has been a purple week for red rage. The hirsute philosopher, AC Grayling, may call himself a "pinko" but his embryo London humanities university in Bedford Square has induced apoplexy in the old left. He and 13 high-octane scholars are having their lectures "targeted". The Guardian is in ideological meltdown. Foyles has been hit by a smoke bomb. The Kropotkin of our age, Terry Eagleton, claims to be fit to vomit. Bloomsbury has not been so excited since semen was spotted on Vanessa Bell's dress.
Britain's professors, lecturers and student trade unionists appear to be united in arms against what they most hate and fear: academic celebrity, student fees, profit and loss, one-to-one tutorials and America. Grayling's New College of the Humanities may be no more than an egotists' lecture agency, better located at Heathrow Terminal 5, but the rage it has evoked is fascinating.
What Grayling has done is caricature the British university. He has cartooned it as no longer an academic community but a high-end luxury consumable for the middle classes, operating roughly half a year, with dons coming and going at will, handing down wisdom in between television and book tours. Just when state universities have been freed by the coalition to triple their income per student (initially at public expense) to £9,000, Grayling has mischievously doubled that to £18,000.
The new institute will offer bursaries, which the left complains "condescend to the deserving poor", to a fifth of the intake. These will be cross-subsidised not, as in state universities, by taxpayers and future graduates but direct from the fees pool. Grayling thus reveals today's "anti-fees" demonstrators for what they are: middle-class militants protecting their parents' incomes from fees today and their own incomes from a graduate tax tomorrow. He wants to make the rich pips squeak.
For Eagleton, "nausea wells to the throat" at the thought of globe-trotting "prima donnas" jumping from state universities into the trough of lucre. He derides Grayling's creation as Oxbridge on Thames, "raking off money from the rich" and thus relegating existing universities to a second division. He omits to mention his own Grayling-ite credentials, as "excellence in English distinguished visitor" to America's private Notre Dame Catholic university. There he gives three weeks' teaching per semester for an undisclosed sum. Moral consistency has never been a Marxist strong suit, though Eagleton protects himself by lecturing on "the death of criticism" and "problems of interpretation".
Grayling's enemies like to see British universities as a welfare state of the intellect. . . .