Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dean of the University

So, it seems that starting a University is easy. You just get a bunch of your famous mates to put their names to it, sponge off the resources of an established institution, offer the same courses as anywhere else, and charge double/triple fees compared to the norm. At least, that's what AC Grayling has supposedly done. It's not going too well, apparently.

Admittedly, I'm being rather fatuous. It's apparently not a university, it's a college offering University level education. It is part of the University of London, but it gets a bit confusing at this point. At first I thought it was akin to something like Queens College being part of Cambridge University, but now I'm guessing it's an 'independent' body which is part the confederal University of London. The University of Wales is a similar thing, it's a body which accredits and is made up of various institutions (and has a habit of validating pseudoscientific/bullshit courses, a fact which irks my patriotic side considerably and one which I've acted on before). I assume the New College of the Humanities is in a similar arrangement with the University of London. I could be all thorough and look this up, but that sounds boring. But if you really must know, feel free to go find out. I'll wait.

Back? OK, good.

It does strike me as a bit of a cash-making wheeze by some high profile ageing academics. But a lot of the concern surrounds the elitism of it, coupled with the frankly satirical fees they're charging. It's open to anyone, they say. But then it's not just anyone who has £18,000 a year to fritter away on an overhyped undergraduate course (in my humble opinion). The arguments about whether this is an acceptable move on the part of Grayling and his fellow famous academics are still going on. It seems to have met with wide condemnation, but that's possibly the result of the sources I rely on to get information, which may well be skewed away from the actual middle-ground. But that's not what I'm particularly interested in.

The point that perked my interest was; is it really that easy to set up a University/Higher Education institution? You just get yourself and some mates to promise to teach some courses, get a few facilities you can use, and charge people a ridiculous sum to listen to you waffle on about it? There's probably a lot more to it than this, but that's how it looks from the general articles I've read. So rather than protest the elitism and exploitative nature of the College of New Humanities via articles, blogs and dubious protests, why not fight fire with fire. They set up a profit making university that caters to the rich, I'll set up the exact opposite!

My University: Name

The New College of Humanities is seemingly dedicated to teaching the humanities. Well, the title suggests that is the case. I've not seen that stated anywhere on the actual website, but it seems a valid conclusion to come to. Some people (such as scientists like Richard Dawkins, disturbingly) have criticised the Humanities for not being that useful. Bit unfair, but that's smug scientists for you. But if I was paying double or triple the typical University fees, I'd expect to have a degree or qualification that would be so useful I'd have employers ringing me up in the middle of the night, begging me to work for them, offering vast sums and sexual favours if I'll even agree to a tour of their offices. But in my experience, the one University that everyone seems to improve your employability is the so-called University of life. It's a decent university in many ways, the skills it teaches you are essential and the curriculum is ridiculously varied. On the downside, you never stop paying the fees to attend, and the graduation ceremony is a depressing affair. However, these days there are seemingly more and more people who are failing at life. Check the number of 'fail' shout outs in any discussion online. You'd think that failing life would have terminal consequences, but apparently not. Arguably, it's a consequence of an increasingly complex and ever changing society. So what we need is an institution to teach people about this sort of thing.

So, I propose the 'College of Modern Life'. That's the name sorted, now we need someone to head it up.

My University: Head of School

AC Grayling is a famous, published academic who has a lot of powerful friends, and this makes him qualified to set up a higher-education institution, so we need someone to rival that. I've got my name on 2 academic
papers so far, this blog has been referenced by several big name scientists/skeptics (e.g. Ben Goldacre, PZ Myers, and so on), and Rhod Gilbert once said hello to me when he passed me in the street. That means I've got the qualifications to run this University, right? Doesn't matter if I don't, actually, as it's my idea. You want to set up your own? Go ahead, it'll be fun.

My University: The Professoriate

If we're really going to try and compete with the New College of the Humanities, we need one thing; famous people. Famous people who are qualified in the subject matter of the University itself. Luckily in this case, it being the University of Modern Life, that means we need famous people who are alive today, which opens the field up a bit. I was thinking of;

Admittedly, I've never met any of these people nor had any form of contact with them, with the possible exception of having passed Keith Harris on a Blackpool pier in the rain (a very poignant moment). But I'm hoping they'll agree to it based on the fact that they're a) just famous enough to qualify as 'celebrities', b) seemingly not doing much these days, c) could benefit from the publicity and kudos of being affiliated to an academic institution, and, most importantly, d) still alive. Hope it all works out. Obviously, these people will presumably have the same role as their New Humanities counterparts; lending their name to the institution, making some token teaching efforts, then have nothing to do with the whole enterprise. Day to day teaching duties will be undertaken by a more general staff who will be selected using the classic 'who's bored and fancies killing an hour?'. It's never let me down before.

My University: The courses

Obviously, the range of courses will be quite broad, given that it covers modern life. It will also be constantly changing, unless life stops for some reason, although in the event of that happening adjustments to a curriculum would be the least of our concerns. But so far, here are what the University will offer to teach prospective students.


Modules Include:

  • Underwear Exposure: How much is too much for the modern individual?
  • Ironic cross-class garment adoption: From low-cut vests to Burberry.
  • Sarah Jessica Parker awareness.
  • Social-Circle Jerks: Acceptable dress sense for potential friends of the fashion conscious.
  • Studied Nonchalance for beginners.
  • Is Bigger Better: Just how big can accessories be before you look like a tw*t?
  • Celebrity Uncertainty: Endorsed garments that are 'P Diddy' or 'MC Hammer'


Modules Include:

  • Txt Speek 4 L8 adoptors! J
  • Psychology of Blogging: How to deal with the realisation that nobody cares what you think
  • Troll spotting and maintenance.
  • Protest THIS!: preparing and constructing the ideal protest banner.
  • Advanced Political Bullshit.
  • "I'm not racist but…": Phrases to disguise your awful views
  • You're all Wrong!: An introduction to newspaper column writing.
  • "To BCC or not to BCC": Appropriate email etiquette for business communications
  • Celebrity Tweeters: Why they aren't actually your friends.
  • Wassuuupp?!?!: Annoying Catchphrases, past and present


Modules Include:

  • CAPS LOCK: It can be turned off
  • Smartphone Smugness: Why you're impressed by it, but nobody else gives a shit (some materials shared with 'Psychology of Blogging')
  • Basic Car Handling: From "Accelerate, granddad!" to "Zzzz: sleeping at the wheel without dying horribly"
  • Printer and Scanner combat: A guide to defeating the most enraging of devices
  • Advanced Remote Control Handling: Including 'What is aspect ratio?' and 'turning off the Spanish subtitles'
  • iWant!: The psychology behind your inexplicable desire for Steve Jobs' latest doohickey
  • Live Streaming: No, it doesn't involve canoes.


Modules Include:

  • Google Diagnosis: Why your doctor knows less than you.
  • Scientific Fields that don't require a white coat.
  • Acronyms Explained: Putting an end to those WTF moments.
  • Dissecting a relationship: Achieving success with the opposite sex while being a scientist
  • BOOM!: Which scientific field is most likely to destroy us all?
  • The McKeith Effect: Using science terminology while talking out of your arse.
  • Pseudo-Sci-Fi: A detailed study in the ridiculous things people actually believe are real.
  • Cox Studies: An in-depth investigation of that man off the telly, and his hair.


Modules Include

  • Anatomy of Women: Why 'Nuts' magazine has lied to you.
  • Lesbianism: It's a sexual orientation, not an automatic occurrence
  • Meeting the Parents: Introductions, relevant conversation, and escape routes
  • The Morning After: When is the best time to leave?
  • Effective Contraception: From prophylactics to porcelain dolls
  • Think About Your Mother!: Dealing with prematureness
  • Is this Normal?: A guide to acceptable fetishes, and when to bring them up.
  • 'They might be Gay, but you might be ugly': Dealing with rejection and severe denial


Modules Include

  • On a budget: Just how much law are you entitled to in your financial situation?
  • Slippery Ladders and Too Hot Coffee: Introduction to getting others to pay for your own idiocy.
  • A guide to Super-in[REDACTED]
  • Libel, Slander and Outright Fabrications: Which legally questionable procedure is right for you?
  • 'I thought of it first!': A guide to patent law and its abuses.
  • Pleading insanity: An investigation into the inaccurate law perpetuated by Hollywood movies
  • The Defence Rests: Legal procedures and processes that really aren't worth bothering with
  • Jack of Kent: Is any other legal resource actually necessary?

My University: The Resources

In order to offer as professional and slick a system as possible, this University shall exploit the already existing resources of other institutions and businesses. Lectures will take place in my nearby Starbucks, a Wetherspoons pub before it gets too busy (this is a logical venue as most students end up here anyway, sometimes instead of at lectures), the Library (if we keep our voices down) or in a car park, as long as those assembled are quick on their feet. Network access will be provided by a 'guess the wifi password' system, favouring smarter students and thus giving us the edge on technical competence in our student pool. Exams will be allocated based on how much scrap paper and free time I have to spend on the venture. To save time, exam results will be dependent largely on the 'most legible handwriting' marking scheme.

My University: Fees

You get what you pay for. Fees currently stand at 50p and a Kit Kat (or national generic confection equivalent for foreign students). Buying your lecturers a coffee/pint will be considered an attempt at bribery and will not e discouraged in the slightest.

So, who wants to sign up?

Email: Humourology (at)

Twitter: @garwboy

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