Curtis Dahlgren
December 8, 2005
History of academia: "Gown versus town" 101
By Curtis Dahlgren

"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 But between the pagan system and the Christian system by which it had been superseded there existed something that was common to both: the latter could not altogether dispense with the ancient text-books, simply because there were no others in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.


It may be far too little, far too late, but just a glimmer of hope appeared the other day, when it was disclosed that Harvard Law School is "diversifying" its professorships. Under a new multi-million-dollar program, new professors are to be hired on academic skills regardless of ideology! This will not only reduce teacher-to-student ratios, but may allow a conservative or two to sneak in the back door at HAH-VAHD!

On the flip side, it may just mean more graduates of Harvard Law (the last thing this country needs). But it's a start. In effect, they are bringing back the old, old "two schools of thought" concept, which Political Correctness has all but obliterated.


A few appropriate closing quotations:

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it." G.K. Chesterton

"In every generation there has to be some fool who will speak the truth as he sees it." Boris Pasternak

"A bad book is as much a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author's soul." Aldous Huxley

"I wonder whether what we are publishing now is worth cutting down trees to make paper for the stuff." Richard Brautigan

"In Russia when you answer questions, you may come to an unfortunate conclusion." Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn

"Is it 'town versus gown' or 'clowns versus clowns'?" Curtis Dahlgren

© Curtis Dahlgren

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in the frozen tundra of Michigan's U.P., and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


Receive future articles by Curtis Dahlgren: Click here

Latest articles

June 20, 2012
YOUR ENGLISH HERITAGE (whether you like it or not)

June 13, 2012
re "NATURAL" resources: An open letter on mining (part 1)

June 10, 2012
WALKER, TAXES RANGER, new marshall in Madison [a classic "best of"]

May 27, 2012
How is Lady Gaga playing in Indonesia? [plus some other dumb questions]

May 19, 2012
More on scamming God's green earth; an open letter on the hoax

May 13, 2012
From the ridiculous (Monday) to the sublime (Tues) to the ridiculous (Wed.)

May 1, 2012
Why would ANYONE live in the U.P.?; a change of pace (part 2)

April 26, 2012
Freedom's tipping points (a must-read); thoughts on the GSA, the NBA, and the BSA, too

April 13, 2012
Bad "social science" (fiction) = MAD "political science fiction" (consequences)

April 8, 2012
"SEASONAL" greetings (plus more amazing energy facts, part IV)

More articles


Alan Keyes
Update re Romney's refusal to renounce Obama's abusive executive order

Fred Hutchison
Faith and atheism in politics: The great divide

Alan Caruba
What just happened to the rule of law?

Lloyd Marcus
Supreme Court ruling: rebirth of tea party

Kevin Fobbs
Obama's tax lies brought communism to America's door

Louie Verrecchio
Patron saints of the Constitution?

James Lambert
Musician from '60s rock group Love has dramatic encounter with God

Chris Adamo
Democrat "damage control" has become an embarrassment
  More columns


Michael Ramirez


RSS feeds



Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
J. Matt Barber
Michael M. Bates
Bill Borst
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites