Curtis Dahlgren
GOWN V. TOWN, part 4; History of the university
By Curtis Dahlgren
September 13, 2013

"If you go to the Republican convention in Florida, you see all those old people with all the dead skin cells washing off of them . . . Republicans raped this country." – Wm. Penn (Michigan State U. professor – not the William Penn – on first day of English class)

THIS COLUMN MAY SEEM LIKE DRY OLD-FOGIE STUFF. But I'm reposting this one from nearly eight years ago because it contains some important – and little-known – facts about the "academy."

To take it from the top – the present – there was an article (Sept. 7, 2013) that shed some light on the tendencies of the "modern" university. They are prone to lying (about global warming, for example.

[quote] A chilly Arctic summer has left nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at the same time last year – an increase of 60 per cent.

The rebound from 2012's record low comes six years after the BBC reported that global warming would leave the Arctic ice-free in summer by 2013.

Instead, days before the annual autumn re-freeze is due to begin, an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia's northern shores.

The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year. More than 20 yachts that had planned to sail it have been left ice-bound and a cruise ship attempting the route was forced to turn back . . . [end quote]

"Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." – Daniel

TO HEAR THEM TELL THE STORY, the intellectuals rode into town on a white charger and saved the world from the "flat-earthers" and the Dark Ages a few hundred years ago. Meanwhile, Christopher Columbus, who actually put his butt on the line to prove the world was round, has been made into an anti-hero by said intellectuals.

The history of the "university" is a fascinating subject, and to put it bluntly, the "increase" in knowledge in the Western world probably had more to do with the repelling of the Mongol and Arabian hordes – and one man's idea that produced the printing press – than with any sudden flashes of "brilliance" in the intellectual class.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition) says, "In order to understand the conditions under which the earliest universities came into existence, it is necessary to take into account, not only their organization, but also of their studies, and to recognize the main influences which, from the 6th to the 12th centuries, served to modify both the theory and practice of education . . . The schools of the Roman Empire (6th century), which had down to that time kept alive the traditions of pagan education, had been almost entirely swept away by the barbaric invasions.

"The latter century [12th] marks the period when the institutions that replaced them – the episcopal schools attached to the cathedrals and the monastic schools – attained to their highest degree of influence and reputation . . . But between the pagan system and the Christian system by which it had been superseded there existed something that was common to both: the latter could not altogether dispense with the ancient text-books, simply because there were no others in existence." [article, "Universities"]


There have always been studium and discipulorum going all the way back to the Greek and Persian and Babylonian empires, and in the revised version of history, the Intelligensia seldom mention the role of the churches in higher education, nor the clashes between the "university" and the common (tax paying) citizens – the "townies."

The famous universities of Europe pre-date the Middle Ages and even much of the so-called Dark Ages. The university at Salerno, Italy was a well-known school of medicine by the 800s AD. The Britannica says that "the most authoritative researches point to the conclusion that the medical system of Salerno was originally an outcome of the Graeco-Roman tradition of the old Roman world." [ibid]


The introduction of the role of the State into higher education occurred at the university in Bologna, with the arrival of Frederick I from Germany as Emperor of the revived "Holy Roman Empire." According to the Britannica, "When [Frederick] marched his forces into Italy on his memorable expedition of 1155, and reasserted those imperial claims which had so long lain dormant, the professors of the civil law and their scholars, but more especially the foreign students, gathered round the Western representative of the Roman Caesars, and besought his intervention in their favor in their relations with the citizens of Bologna . . [and] he granted the foreign students substantial protection, by conferring on them certain special immunities and privileges . . .

"In them we may discern the precedent for that state protection of the university which, however essential at one time for the security and freedom of the teacher and the taught, has been far from proving an unmixed benefit – the influence which the civil power has thus been able to exert being too often wielded for the suppression of that very liberty of thought and inquiry from which the earlier universities derived in no small measure their importance and their fame." [ibid, my emphasis]


Theological lectures were instituted at Oxford, England as early as 1133 AD and within about 100 years, a king-and-academia partnership began to take advantage of the locals. Again, the Britannica says:

"The historian, John Richard Green, epitomizes the relation between the two [city and school] when he shows that 'Oxford had already seen five centuries of borough life before a student appeared within its streets . . . The University found Oxford a busy, prosperous borough, and reduced it to a cluster of lodging-houses. It found it among the first of English municipalities, and it so utterly crushed its freedom that the recovery of some of the commonest rights of self-government has only been brought about by recent [1825] legislation.'" [ibid, "Oxford"]

It goes on to say, "As to the relations between the university and the city, in 1248 a charter of Henry III afforded students considerable privileges at the expense of townsfolk, in the way of personal and financial protection. Moreover, the chancellor already possessed juridical powers; even over the townsfolk he shared jurisdiction with the mayor.

"Not unnaturally these peculiar conditions engendered rivalry between 'town and gown'; rivalry led to violence, and after many lesser encounters a climax was reached on St. Scholastica's and the following day, February 10th and 11th, 1354/55. Its immediate cause was trivial, but the townsmen gave rein to their long-standing animosity, severely handled the scholars, killing many, and paying the penalty, for Edward III gave the university a new charter enhancing its privileges."

Thus another taxpayer revolt back-fired. No wonder the intellectual class considers itself so important and its arrogance so "normal": IT'S AN OLD, OLD TRADITION!


Modern-day manifestations of the arrogance of the old British intelligentsia include irrevocable tenure, lots of the actual teaching load shifted to "Teaching Assistants," paid "sabbaticals" and back-up jobs for those "fired" for gross violations of ethics, humongous salaries for administrators (many including a house and a car plus expenses), second incomes and double-dipping for retirement accounts, etc. – not to mention the political clout – including the cultural power to make life miserable for the "politically incorrect townsfolk" through hate-speech codes and laws, biased journalists, "environmentalism," student "fees" to fund pet projects, etc., etc., etc.!

It's enough to make a grown man cry, or maybe even upset the staid, cool English, given enough time!


The Britannica says [article, "University"], "Harvard, William and Mary, and Yale, the three pioneers of colonial times, were organized in the days of colonial poverty, on the plans of the English colleges which constitute the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Graduates of Harvard and Yale carried these British traditions to other places, and similar colleges grew up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and later in many other states."

"The underlying principle in these institutions was discipline – mental, moral and religious" BELIEVE IT OR NOT! [ibid, with added emphasis and personal comment]


Two Texas university student groups set up "Smut for smut" booths at school – at which they gave out pornographic literature for every Bible turned in (sort of like a "gun buy-out" program with an academic twist). San Diego university students produce and star in their own XXX rated videos over the school cable system. Certain words are forbidden on campuses from sea to shining sea, especially if the first 6 letters of the word are "Christ"! Gay groups tap into the "student fee" funds, but conservative news papers published with private funds are stolen, burned, or sometimes banned. Ann Coulter, OF COURSE, does not have her First Amendment rights any more!

"Have we reached the stomach-turning point yet?" – as Jenkin Lloyd Jones used to ask.

P.S. Personally, I pray that America can break the cycle of Yale-Harvard-Yale-Harvard grads in the White House! This ain't yo daddy's Ivy League anymore!

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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