restricted access A Commentary (Jan 1938)
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[ 589 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 17 (Jan 1938) 254-59 The presentation of a large sum of money to a University, to whatever purposes the gift is limited, is always the cause of jubilation by University authorities and of respectful admiration by the press. A few persons may wonder, from time to time, whether either the donors or the recipients are fully aware of what they are doing, or of the possible consequences in the long run. The recent benefactions of Lord Nuffield to Oxford afford a number of reasons for speculation of this quiet kind:1 our chief difficulty is that the possible consequences extend in more than one direction, and perhaps no one person is qualified to estimate them all. Some may have wondered whether the cause of medical research can best be served at Oxford, rather than in London, where there are more hospitals, or in Cambridge or Edinburgh, universities in the past more celebrated for medical teaching . If Lord Nuffield’s enthusiasm was for medical research, these persons might say, he might perhaps have served it better elsewhere; and if his enthusiasm was for Oxford, other persons may think, he might have served that university better in some other way. Oxford is already as big as it needs to be, or even bigger; and no one who is acquainted with the modern American universities should wish it to expand further.2 Is a further influx of medical research students, who might have just as well been directed elsewhere, really desirable? And when Oxford is the national and imperial centre for medical research, and able to buy the best brains for this purpose at top prices, will not the Humanities decline there still further? TheVice-Chancellorisatpainstoassureusthatthelatterfearisgroundless . “As illusory,” he said, in Convocation on October 6, was the fear that the University was being given a twist towards scientific and away from those humanistic studies for which it was justly famous. In the appeal as much had been asked for humanistic studies, including the Bodleian, as for science. The object of the appeal is to enable us in science, as in other subjects, to maintain the old traditions of the University in the new conditions in which we are living.3 Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1938 590 ] On turning, however, to the Oxford University Appeal, we are not altogether reassured. Certainly no one can object to the proper equipment of the Bodleian and the Ashmolean, or to a fund for archaeological research.4 The other two needs in the Humane Studies are more obscure. We should like to know exactly what research “in the Arts subjects” is. And can we be sure that “the study of Human Society, Social Studies, and allied subjects, such as Anthropology” is necessarily “Humane” study?5 In the past some of these studies have partaken more of the nature of pseudo-science. They are sometimes called “the Social Sciences.” The instance given of a humane study for which there is an urgent need is curious: In a recent speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer drew attention to the “fresh set of problems,” associated with the prospective decrease of population in these islands, “which are likely to make growing demands upon the attention of social investigators and statesmen.” To ascertain and to measure the probable consequences – social, economic, and financial – of a fall in the population is the first step to the practical measures that will be needed to anticipate and to meet them.6 This is a remarkable statement of the problem. One would have thought that the first step would be to decide whether a fall in the population, from every point of view, was a good thing or a bad thing, and to ask how it comes about, rather than assume that it was something as far beyond human control as the procession of the seasons. While our endowed researchers are busy measuring the “probable consequences” and preparing reports which there will be nobody to read, the consequences will be upon us. But in any case, research into the probable consequences, social, economic and financial , of a decrease of the population is not exactly what one has in the past regarded as part of “the Humanities.” The situation is made still more obscure to me by a sentence by the Vice-Chancellor quoted earlier in the Appeal. Higher study and research in a university, he says, “rest ultimately upon a spiritual foundation: the conviction in the...