The Guardian (Blog) Friday September 16 2011
Classics at risk at Royal Holloway, University of London
The Classics department at Royal Holloway, University of London, is threatened with closure. And that's just crazy, says Charlotte Higgins
There are only 22 Classics degrees left in the country. That's despite the fact that Classics – the understanding of the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, the cultures that are the fountainhead of the way we organise intellectual, political, and imaginative life – is getting more and more popular among the public. Why, the current Government has even reinstated Latin as a language in the curriculum (madly, it didn't count as such under Labour).
Which is only a tiny indication of why it's just craziness to close down the Classics department at Royal Holloway, University of London – which is what the senior management are proposing to do. Actually, the RHUL principal has called the proposed move "a finely judged reconfiguration of our academic portfolio", which seems to me to absolutely take the biscuit on what the author Steven Poole would call Unspeak.
Let's be clear: the RHUL Classics department probably isn't flawless. From a very distant position – admittedly with no real knowledge of the way the department works – it seems to me a bit off-kilter that of 13 members of staff, seven are professors: that looks on the face of it top heavy. The department didn't do brilliantly in the last research assessment exercise, either (though there's been enough ink spilled on the flaws of the methodology of that to cause us to pause before using it as an objective measure of success). But to argue that the solution to this is to kill off the department seems to me to be absurd. Reform, by all means (and the staff are putting forward all sorts of ideas to achieve this). Abolish? Don't be sodding daft. As Stephen Fry, supporting the campaign to save classics at RHUL, has said: "You might as well tell the world that the Dorchester has decided against cooking and will be dispensing vitamin tablets to all its guests from now on. Fatuous, tragic, the falsest of false economies. I can hear the Houyhnhnms' dying shivers as the Yahoos surge forward, knuckles grazing the ground."
If you're around the Euston Road in London tomorrow, there's a brilliant-sounding event happening at the Friends' Meeting House. It's a celebration of Classics - not just a campaigning event for the department, but actually a fab-sounding line-up of speakers talking about all manner of topics classical. The Save Classics at RHUL Facebook group page has all the details, as does the campaign blog. Prof Edith Hall – one of the finest minds in the country; you'll have heard her on In Our Time a thousand times – will welcome guests at 2.15pm. Natalie Haynes, author of An Ancient Guide to Modern Life, will be there, and poet Tony Harrison, and Rubicon author Tom Holland. People will be talking about famous RHUL classicists – who include twin personal goddesses of mine, George Eliot and Richmal Crompton. There will be a mass exodus to the pub afterwards. It's all free. Were I not in Glasgow for a story, I'd definitely be there: and I think you lot should all go.