Diversity as Understood by Manchester University

Joe Blow in the comments under my post on the decline of Manchester University points me towards this post at Harry’s place:

It’s a shame Manchester Uni decided to adopt a policy of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. I guess now they’ll be off the internet and their students will stop using their Apple Macs and mobiles.

Ah yes, the completely non-racist Manchester Students’ Union that embraces diversity – unless you’re Jewish:

On the night, Jewish students who argued against the motion were made to feel as if their concerns about their potential marginalisation were not being heard. Despite offering alternatives that included creating a discussion forum to engage with the Israeli-Palestinian debate, many on the Senate believed that a targeted BDS tactic was more constructive than any form of engagement.

Criticism of Israel and its policies is not in itself antisemitic, and there is plenty to criticise.  However, when an individual, group, or organisation singles out Israel or Israelis for particular criticism or treatment, or makes opposition to Israel its raison d’être, it is fair to ask what is the driving force behind it.

For example, if somebody says they believe Israel ought not to exist, it is perfectly legitimate to ask whether they believe any of the other 193 United Nations Member States should also not exist.  If the answer is no, as it always is, then one is entitled to draw one’s own conclusions as to why the only country in the world whose existence is forever questioned just so happens to be Jewish.  Similarly, if a university decides to boycott visiting academics from Israel and nowhere else, one may be forgiven for thinking the reasons behind it are rather simple.

Critics of Israel could also avoid charges of antisemitism if they were not so often sharing platforms with openly antisemitic people and their communications didn’t read as though they’d been copied chapter and verse from a Hamas press release.

Those behind the BDS movement, and by association The University of Manchester itself, might claim they are not motivated by hatred of Jews, but the rest of us are free to draw our own conclusions.  It is yet another reason for me to distance myself from my alma mater and to chuck the begging letters in the bin.

What became of the University of Manchester?

Regular readers will know that I am an alumnus of the University of Manchester, and for some reason I signed up to the Alumni Society and so receive their annual magazine.  The latest edition dropped through my letterbox last week and even the front cover is enough to tell you what’s inside and, by extension, what has gone deeply wrong with that institution and, I suspect, academia as a whole in Britain and the Western World.  Perhaps I’m extrapolating too much, but here is the front cover:

It’s hard to know where to start.  The title of “your manchester” dispensing of capital letters is the type of crap rebranding we saw in the New Labour era where anything with pedigree and reputation was thrown out in favour of being cool and edgy.  “Accelerate gender parity” makes no sense whatsoever, and looks as though it was dreamed up by somebody who didn’t really understand all three words on their own, let alone how they could form a sentence.  Then they have a statement regarding “the power of challenging stereotypes” underneath a picture of a token ethnic woman and the words “building our future together” in what must be the most cliché-driven magazine cover one can imagine.  Seriously, take away the Manchester University logo and this could have been issued by an airline, a local authority, a charity, a corporation, a hospital, or just about anybody else. It’s as generic as they come.  Challenging stereotypes, indeed.

Bad though the front cover is, it goes downhill from there.  Page 3 gives us a piece by the President and Vice Chancellor – a woman – complete with photo in which she tells us that following Brexit “both the city and the University are and will remain irrevocably part of Europe.”  Never mind the referendum result then, we’re just supposed to accept her political desires.

Page 4 gives us this picture of Lemn Sissay, the university’s chancellor since 2015:

Now doesn’t he just personify academic rigour and gravitas? Page 5 gives us an interview with him, in which we find out:

A year into his Chancellorship, Lemn is still learning a lot, still getting to grips with the enormity of the role and what he describes as the vastness of the University.

Experience?  Who needs it?

But he’s enjoying himself.

And that’s the main thing.

I was in Broadway Market in Hackney the other day when I saw five young women, bright as summer, sharp as a pin, looking fantastic, synapses sparkling and they shouted ‘Chancellor, Chancellor!’.  It turns out they were all newly graduated alumni.  We took a selfie and I put it on my Facebook page.

I’m not making this up.

Page 14 and 15 contain a feature on a lecture given by Manchester University alumnus Winnie Byanyima, who is now Oxfam’s International Executive Director.  Here’s what she had to say:

[S]he began by reminiscing about her arrival in Manchester as a refugee from the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda.

“I was angry from having to leave my country.  But it was my experience here in Manchester that gave me the opportunity to turn that anger into activism,” she told a packed audience.  “I immediately joined other students.  We protested.  We organised.  We got involved in fierce intellectual debates.  We supported the anti-apartheid struggle and the decolonisation struggles in Africa at the time.”

So she was forced to flee a brutal, post-colonial African dictator who ate people and when she arrived in a safe haven she immediately started protesting against those who had taken her in and agitating for more of Africa to come under local rule.  That she can say this with a sense of pride, and the University of Manchester thinks putting this in their magazine is a good thing, speaks volumes.

Winnie went on to talk of major challenges that must be confronted, and the inequalities of income and wealth in a global economy that works for a few at the expense of the many, where almost a billion people go to bed hungry every night.

Apparently this is considered a good advertisement for the sort of education you can expect at Manchester.

She focused on the young women who work in factories producing clothes for high-street brands, working up to 23 hours a day and earning less than $4 for their labour.

Naturally, there is no mention of whether these women wanted the attentions of people like Winnie Byanyima.  It is just casually assumed that they need her help.

“We need to create a more human economy that works for people, rather than the other way round –  a human economy rather than an economy for the one per cent.”

Here we have an African-born woman who fled Idi Amin’s Uganda failing to notice the billions who have been lifted out of poverty by the phenomenal growth of the global economy over the past two or three decades.  Presumably the vast improvements in her native country since the mid-1990s put its population in the 1%.

Pages 19-21 consist of a piece about an award-winning electrical engineer, who also happens to be a woman.

Which is great, but back in 1999 I dated a girl who was studying Mechanical Engineering in the year below me.  She went by the name of Wendy and came from somewhere near Nottingham, and she was probably the cleverest person I’ve ever met anywhere, one of those extraordinarily gifted people who just turn up out of nowhere.  I think she completed her four year course with an average mark across all subjects of around 90%, and won every damned prize going in the engineering school such that even after her second year her name graced most of the plaques in the foyer.  I remember her sitting a 2-hour engineering maths exam and walking out at the earliest opportunity, which was 30 minutes.  She told me she’d finished after 20 minutes and that included checking.  She got 100%.  She was also a Grade 8 at piano and clarinet.  Like I say, an absolute genius (although not clever enough to keep clear of me).  My point is that exceptionally clever women have been excelling in hard engineering subjects at Manchester University for at least 20 years, it is nothing new.

Which is why pages 19 and 20 are particularly grating, containing the story from the cover about “accelerating gender parity” with one Naa Acquah – a Londoner born to Ghanaian parents – as the featured individual:

She became the first black female General Secretary (of  the Students’ Union) in 2015…presiding over the most diverse Executive Team mix in the history of the Union.

A diverse Union, you say? This would be the same Union that banned the feminist Julie Bindel from speaking at an event on, ironically, free speech and then followed that up by banning Milo Yiannopoulos from the same event.  But of course, at a modern university the colour of somebody’s skin is so much more important than maintaining diversity of thought.  The entire article is a litany of third-wave feminist claptrap complete with myths about the gender pay gap and sexual assault “on campus”, followed by an admission that Ms Acquah finds Beyoncé “inspirational”.  This Beyoncé:

Page 28-29 features an article on how a former graduate from Manchester is now mentoring a current student who is from Nigeria, just in case we haven’t got the message that Manchester University is so very diverse:

In case there are still spectacularly thick people reading the magazine that still haven’t got the message, the editors treat us to an article on a “widening participation programme” featuring one Dr Valeed Ghafoor who came from a disadvantaged background otherwise known as “the state school system”.

Page 36 gives us the profiles of three people who have won awards for being “outstanding and inspirational”:

Tell me you didn’t see that coming!

Pages 40-45 contain pictures of various people: 11 are women, 12 are ethnic minorities, 1 is a half-normal looking white male.

The back page is devoted to begging alumni for donations, motivating us to do so by including a picture of “Britain’s first black professor” and this picture:

Nah, sorry.  I’m not giving money to a university that has embraced poisonous identity politics, thinks nothing of ramming third-wave feminism down the throats of its students and alumni, and advertises itself as nothing more than a hive of dumbed-down, PC conformity.

Twenty years ago us students at Manchester were told the colour of people’s skin didn’t matter, and nobody batted an eyelid at a woman doing engineering or thought there was a shortage of female students occupying key positions.  Now all that’s changed, and the message I am getting loud and clear is that as a white British male I am no longer welcome.

Time to withdraw from the alumni association, I think.

Hurrah for Comprehensive Education!

There is a furniture company in the UK which advertises relentlessly on Sky Sports, particularly during cricket matches, and earlier this year it looked as though they would be able to supply me with some items I was looking for.  They didn’t deliver abroad, but did offer free delivery in the UK, and so I could get them to deliver the goods to the premises of this outfit which I have used before to bring furniture from the UK to France (I can recommend them).

The cross-channel transport company quite reasonably asked what volume of goods I was shipping to they could give me a proper quote and reserve space in one of their vehicles.  Unfortunately, the furniture company don’t do what most furniture companies do and specify the volume of each item on their website, and so I had to email them and ask.

This turned out to be a difficult question to answer: apparently, they were unable to tell me unless I placed an order.  Alarm bells started ringing: could it be that I’d gotten involved with a company that puts 90% of its effort into sales teams and mass advertising, and 10% into delivering on its core services?  I was advised that I could place an order but not pay for it, and then ring them up (international call, of course) and get the information.  So I duly did just that.  The person who took the call sounded as though he applied for an entry-level position in a vegetable-packing plant and got turned down due to lack of intellect.  If he’d told me he’d suffered major head trauma in the past 24 hours but couldn’t get time off to go to hospital, I’d have believed him.  He told me he could see my order but couldn’t give me the volume because “only the logistics people know that”, and he thought they’d all gone home.  But he’d check.

After a few minutes he came back.  “Two point three centimetres squared”, he told me.  I sighed.  “Firstly,” I said “you have described something the approximate size of a cigarette lighter and I’m sure my furniture is a little larger than that.  Secondly, the unit will be cubed, as we are talking about a volume not an area.”  He replied with a voice that betrayed either a heavy cold, a hangover, or somebody holding his nose, “Well, this is what my computer screen is telling me.”

I finally got the information I wanted by converting his centimetres squared into metres cubed, but I never got the furniture: compared to his colleagues with whom I dealt with later, this chap was Employee of the Year.

Tickled Pink

When I read stories like this, I can’t help but get the impression that Australia is going to disappear up its own arse before too long:

The pink jersey worn by Australian rugby league referees is being scrapped as there is a feeling among officials that it undermines their authority.

So far, so meh.

But the move has come in for criticism for alienating certain groups.

Dr Tom Heenan, of the National Centre for Australian Studies, said: “I don’t think this move away from pink really supports social inclusion.”

Heenan told the BBC World Service that the change risks alienating the gay community and breast cancer awareness groups.

Leave aside for a moment the laughable idea that Australia is a tough, frontier nation and the even more laughable fact that certain of its menfolk go on holiday in Japan, aged 40, wearing a t-shirt saying “Harden the f*ck up!” on the front.

Really, people are going to become alienated by rugby league referees changing their shirt colour?  What a load of bollocks!  But it’s yet another example of the most patronising language deployed against any given group of people coming from those who profess to speak on their behalf.

I assume there are a lot of gays in Australia who like watching rugby league, and I doubt there is a single one who genuinely gives a shit that the referees are not going to wear pink any more.  Probably because, unlike the crude stereotype Dr Heenan is peddling, most gay men don’t go all giddy over the colour pink any more than they have limp wrists and wear bottomless chaps.

Then again, Dr Heenan is an academic.  Here’s what his profile at Monash University’s website says:

Tom believes that learning should be informative.

Just think: that is only the second most stupid Tom Heenan line I have posted today.

He likes nothing more than taking students on the road. His students sample life in Outback New South Wales. He introduces them to the mining community around Broken Hill, and the endless expanses of Eldee Station and the Mundi Mundi Plain.

They ride camels, visit the ghost town of Silverton and meet the indigenous custodians at Lake Mungo National Park. Students explore this and other Australian places and issues as part of Tom’s Australian Idols: Exploring Contemporary Australia unit.

I have no idea what Dr Heenan teaches, but his students would be forgiven for thinking they’d joined a rambler’s association by mistake.  I wonder what they get charged for this?

The University of Manchester

I’m not sure why, but I have always been rather proud of having attended the University of Manchester (which has since joined with UMIST).  I guess it is because I have not attended any well-known school or worked for any company with a household name (with the exception of Marconi, which became famous during my brief tenure for the most spectacular corporate collapse in British history), yet everybody knows Manchester if not specifically its university.

Out here in the UAE, your alma mater is quite important.  In order to be granted a work permit for most positions, especially technical ones such as an engineer, it is necessary to have a degree in a relevant subject.  As part of the vetting process, you must get your degree certificate attested first by the British Council and then by the UAE authorities, who check it against a list of recognised institutions before stamping it with their approval.  As you can imagine, people show up here with all sorts of degrees and diplomas from the Kanchenjunga College of Higher Education in Darjeeling or The Billabong University of Western Australia and have awful trouble getting their qualifications recognised by the UAE authorities, who will not issue a work permit until they are satisfied they are not bringing in a fuckwit.  Unsurprisingly, the University of Manchester is recognised without hesitation, which makes things a lot easier when first arriving.

So it is with some degree of pride that I see the University of Manchester is ranked No. 58 in the Newsweek Top 100 Global Universities, and 8th amongst the British universities.  I am sure the university’s position has been boosted by the merger with UMIST, which I thought was a thoroughly sensible move in an attempt to position itself in the global higher education marketplace which the current Labour government and many other British universities seem determined to abandon.  Notably absent from the list are Durham University and St. Andrews, which I always thought ranked pretty highly.  I am pleased to see Manchester beat Nottingham (78th), which leaves Bristol (49th) as the target to surpass in the future.

Whatever the significance of the list and Manchester’s position, it is as good a reason as any to wear my university tie to work each week.