The introduction, in all its guises, is frequently a turgid entity prone to over-embellishment and pomposity. Understanding of this basic fact is essential to completing an arts bachelor, and what better way to communicate this than with the decadent but ultimately unfulfilling Faculty Opening Day. Warm welcomes, tomato sandwiches (or oysters and champagne if your faculty generates income) and obligatory team-building fuel a sense of anticipation, the beginning of something momentous and life-forming. But peer beneath the veil of exuberance and all is not well in the humanities faculties. Under pressure to justify their existence and increasingly viewed as a means to preoccupy those students who can’t do math, the cracks are beginning to appear in the veneer.
At last year’s opening I and my fellow freshmen were greeted with a trumpet call by the horsemen of the liberal art-pocalypse. Our programme commander-in-chief paced back and forth before an audience of apprehensive apprentices, like a distressed galleon barely afloat over the tranquil sea laid before it. “You are the guardians of our cultural heritage!” she bellowed at the apathetic faces, “and the last of a dying breed. Society is being turned over to lawyers and economists and our researchers are under constant pressure to valorise their output”. I picked at a couple of tomato sandwiches as my attention began to wander; I wasn’t sure what valorisation was but Google informed me it has something to do with fixing prices. As I pondered how useful Google would be for my education, a man with a beard and sandals freestyled about our rights and duties as students and the importance of a critical attitude towards our institutions. I resolved to be very critical but was ultimately overcome by the excitement of the faculty quiz and my free carton of promotional products, generously and benevolently donated by local businesses.
The grandeur of those early days quickly evaporated. My free ping pong balls and plastic cups still sit, unmolested, under a mountain of grainy photocopied literature. But I managed to complete almost fifty percent of course assessments, thus fulfilling my role as critical thinker reasonably adequately; this year I intend to bolster my activism by voting in the university elections. And the faculty is still open for business without too many grumbles from staff, so I imagine the whole valorisation thing sorted itself out in the end, as these things usually do.
David Darler, second year bachelor student of Arts & Culture