Traditional “universities” continue to collapse before our eyes. The politicization of institutions that were once focused on the cold pursuit of truth is so extreme that they are turning on their own. Thus Prof. David Miller, of England’s prestigious Bristol University, was recently fired, for anti-Semitism, due his being persistently critical of Israel [Bristol University: Professor David Miller sacked over Israel comments, BBC News, October 1, 2021]. And Yale University Law School recently declared that its merely having an association with a conservative organization—the Federalist Society—was “triggering” for its students. This can’t go on.
Universities are no longer “elite” if 50% of the age cohort attend them, meaning they don’t give you the edge in employment [“We will beat Germany!” Tory Williamson unveils plot to supercharge British education, by Macer Hall, Express, October 1, 2019]. Quality has been dumbed down by this expansion. Worse still, universities have been completely taken over by Woke ideology, meaning that they’re not even teaching students critical thinking or useful information [Lackademia, by Noah Carl, Adam Smith Institute, 2016]. American confidence in universities fell from 41% in 2006 to 14% in 2018 [(Dis)trust in Science, by Gleb Tsipursky, July 5, 2018, Scientific American].
But this is not the first time universities have gone into decline. For example, by the early seventeenth century, English universities were completely taken over by religion. Student numbers started to fall, and they began to be perceived as seminaries and as finishing schools for the upper class [See The University in Society, by L. Stone]. (Similarly, Britain’s top Oxford University now explicitly discriminates in favor of black students for entirely non-academic reasons: Oxford University agrees to let in disadvantaged students with lower grades, by Gabriela Swerling, Daily Telegraph, May 21, 2019.)
Result in the seventeenth century: the better students rejected English universities in favor of the Scottish universities that actually taught useful things like science and critical thinking. Thus Darwin originally went to Edinburgh University. Young aristocrats also went on the “Grand Tour” and, as part of this, spent time at a Dutch or German university. By the eighteenth century, many brighter English students attended Leiden University (which they spelled Leyden) in the Netherlands. Oxford and Cambridge didn’t start to become “prestigious” again until they got rid of their religious focus from 1871 onwards [See Introduction to the History of International Relations in Higher Education, by William Brickman, 1960].
Why wouldn't we expect this to happen again? The internet means that you don’t need access to a physical library, operated by a university, to attain knowledge. You might want a “teacher” who’ll direct you and inspire you. But there are a number of “far right” (i.e. “non-Woke”) para-academics with significant online followings who are doing just that. For example, England-based “Academic Agent,” a cancelled English literature professor, offers numerous online lectures on various topics as well as modular courses that you can pay for [Far-Right Youtuber Allegedly a Former Surrey Lecturer—University Investigates, by Irene Garcia and Peter Ferguson, Surrey Stag, July 2020].
British pupils from prestigious private schools (the so-called “public schools”= prep schools in the U.S.) are increasingly bypassing university—in favor of “on the job” training schemes [2017 A-Levels Results, BSA, August 17,, 2017]. This is possible because employers have confidence in the not-yet-Woke-dominated world of the English public school. In effect, having gone to one is a de facto “credential.”
Similarly, according to historians, in Early Modern England it was common for the gentry to spend some time studying law at a university or an Inn of Court, usually without graduating. This was regarded as a de facto qualification and would aid your career through the prestige attached and the knowledge accrued [see Education and recreation, by N. Orme, In R. Radulescu and T. Truelove, Gentry Culture in Late Medieval England, 2014].
Gradually, if they genuinely involved useful knowledge and training, such “sort of” qualifications could become, in effect, recognized, as did “the Grand Tour.” In this way, they could displace the dying universities.
In Germany, this has been taken even further. The alternative Gegen University offers modular courses, modelled on the university system, for a fee. These courses aim to teach students the unbridled truth, especially about “controversial” topics that are censored by the recognized German universities. Needless to say, the German Left is not pleased about this “Nazi network,” as they term it [Das neue Nazi-Netzwerk—Verfassungsschutz warnt vor rechter “Elite-Uni,“ Bild.de, July 16, 2021].
But how can these alternatives to Woke universities take off if their qualifications are not officially recognized? Well, firstly, it is already increasingly pointless doing a degree in a non-remunerative subject such as history or social science. The qualification is supposed to prove your intelligence, which it does not do if it’s merely Woke indoctrination. These are the kinds of areas that “alternative” academics focus on. If institutions such as Gegen University are perceived as teaching students useful skills, having gone there will be a de facto qualification, whether the government recognizes it or not.
Of course, this is more difficult in technical professions controlled by guilds, such as medicine or law. (But we shouldn’t forget that in the sixteenth century anybody could set themselves up as an attorney—just as anyone, these days, can set themselves up as a genealogist or a private tutor. You’d simply advertise your “experience” working with “recognized” attorneys. Clients would use their own judgement—see The Common Lawyers of Pre-Reformation England, by E. W. Ives, 1983).
For these guilds to be penetrated, there would need to be a total collapse in public and official confidence.
But guess what? As these professions are taken over by Woke ideologues—as bad doctors are credentialled for political reasons—this collapse will inevitably happen. Thus Berkeley Life Sciences is now sifting candidates based on their “diversity statements”—not on their abilities. And where Berkeley goes, the rest will follow, which will be the death of STEM at American universities.
Hadn't heard about this-- Berkeley had a life sciences faculty search and a committee eliminated 76% of candidates based on their diversity statements— Evil (Political) Scientist (@knrd_z) October 18, 2021
What starts at Berkeley ends at every university in the US. Goodbye STEM https://t.co/viVJzblNdK
Affirmative Action is a danger to your health. The “credentials” associated with it will eventually start to be doubted. People will prefer a doctor who they can be certain has qualified on merit, and this can only mean from a school that specifically rejects Affirmative Action. This kind of dramatic change happens when a society collapses; when trust in all its institutions is lost, which as German philosopher Oswald Spengler argued always occurs in the “Winter of Civilization” —which there are many indications we are now entering.
The results might not blossom for many decades, but its seeds are there.
Perhaps higher education will reform, as it did 1871 in England, to be truly academic and meritocratic once again.
But, if it doesn’t, there are clear alternatives waiting to eclipse it and they appear to be growing. Back in 1993, VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow interviewed British thinker Sir Douglas Hague, who predicted that (even apart from more recent political problems) modern technology could be a problem for traditional universities. It increasingly appears he may have been prescient.
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.