If it’s true that you haven’t had an authentic post-GFC London experience until you’ve been in the midst of a student protest, then I have finally qualified.
What started, on the evening of 7th June 2011, as “The Arts in Britain”, a conversation at Foyles book store about the state of arts and humanities funding in light of current and impending government cuts…
(Above, L – R: Mick Gordon, A. C. Grayling, Al Senter. Below, far right: Christopher Frayling)
…rapidly descended into a morass of orchestrated heckling from certain vocal members of the audience, before ending with this:
Admittedly, this was mild as student protests go.
A. C. Grayling, as Master and figurehead of The New College of the Humanities, copped an earful from angry students as he tried valiantly to stick to the advertised topic of discussion. To a lesser extent, theatre director Mick Gordon and former Arts Council chairman Christopher Frayling were also under attack, although Frayling did his best to steer the conversation when protesters’ insults and interjections made it impossible for the beleaguered Grayling to speak freely. Arts journalist Al Senter, chair of the discussion, largely failed to control the situation.
The recently unveiled New College of the Humanities has been accused of plagiarism of course materials, as well as a general charge of elitism over its £18,000 p.a. tuition fees. Doubts have also been raised about the amount of time big name lecturers will devote to students.
I am a big fan of A. C. Grayling, and whatever the pros and cons of this new higher education venture, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the man. He did attempt to get the event back on track, offering to speak to protesters afterwards and address their concerns. However, a cannister of red smoke caused the evacuation of the venue as soon as the formal discussion ended.
Protesters lingered outside, hoping for a glimpse of their quarry, but he was most likely spirited away by security. They instead busied themselves with media interviews, and heated arguments over the effectiveness of their disruptive intervention.
Will the New College of the Humanities be over before it has even begun?