Hull University thinks white man’s spelling is elitist and should be abandoned. What about air traffic controllers, pilots and surgeons ?

I have an admission to make. I lecher. This makes me a lecherer after which I was a senior lecherer. What’s more, I lecher at the University of Hull where they made me a Proffesor. So I guess I could not of dun beter. My university, not usually in the headlines for anything, has forced itself there, becoming a national laughing-stock and earning an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph by Laura Freeman in the process.

The issue? Well, Nos Universitatis Hullensis has decided to abandon the need for students to write properly, including spelling properly, on the grounds that insisting on good grammar and correct spelling are elitist and reflective of largely white, North European and—brace yourself—male values.

The aim is to be more inclusive and not to discriminate against those who may not have mastered the use of English and for those from underperforming schools. One could question what these two groups are doing at the university in the first place. Are there not English language requirements and educational requirements for entry? Are these applied equitably, or do we have a process of positive discrimination? Let’s face it, the word ‘positive’ does not hide the fact that this remains ‘discrimination’ even if it is discrimination against the better educated who are fluent in English. Discrimination, however well intentioned, of necessity always excludes someone.

I have no idea who was consulted about this, I certainly recall no consultation with staff and have no idea if the students were consulted. Nor do I care. If something is wrong, it is wrong, no matter who was consulted. In an effort not to discriminate against the poorly educated and the linguistically challenged we have done them both a great disservice. We have patronised them beyond credibility. People from other countries and from ethnic minority groups do not go to the University of Hull for a second-class education. Yet that is what they are being offered. People from underperforming schools do not strive to get to university to maintain their own underperformance. Both groups come to be challenged, to learn and to graduate from university with more knowledge and skills than they entered.

There has been increasing emphasis over recent decades on the acquisition of ‘transferable skills’ in addition to a body of knowledge. These are aimed at skills over and above the syllabus which facilitate adaptation to the world of work. What could be a more transferable skill than learning to write properly? I was literate when I left school to study biology at The University of Edinburgh. Spelling and grammar were not a problem. But I had no idea how to construct an argument, assimilate evidence and to write that coherently until I was taught to by my mainly Oxbridge educated lecherers (sorry, lecturers).

The transferable skill, that brings me to these pages, has helped me earn a doctorate, write ten books and several hundred scientific papers and kept food on the table for my family, is my greatest gift given to me by those who taught me. It is impossible to imagine how this gift could be given to people if you are continually having to correct grammar, syntax and spelling. Even worse, it can never be given to someone whose grammar, syntax and spelling we are prohibited from correcting and subsequently rewarding when they improve. If we are determined to keep people in ignorance and perpetuate their incoherence and inarticulacy in writing, I can think of no greater form of discrimination.

John McNab is a professor at the University of Hull

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10 Comments on Hull University thinks white man’s spelling is elitist and should be abandoned. What about air traffic controllers, pilots and surgeons ?

  1. No need for them to worry too much however they spell anything. They’ve got a captive customer base who have been brainwashed into the certainty that to shuffle bits of paper around desks in governmen- sponsored sinecures requires a higher degree in Business Administration and no less than a first degree in Public Transport Revenue Management allows one to become a bus conductor: on an electric bus naturally. Foreign students will take one look at Hull and, like recent arrivals in Basra, realise they’re ten miles up it and retreat as fast as possible.

  2. Presumably “John McNab” is a pseudonym borrowed from the pages of John Buchan, and his university isn’t really Hull, but I fear that such measures may not suffice to protect the author from vengeance. In Senior Common Rooms throughout the land the racks are being oiled and the red pokers heated.
    “Are you, or have you ever been, a contributor to a non-Marxist quarterly magazine?”
    “No! No! No! I assure you! No!”
    “Cardinal Attenborough, poke his eyes out.”

  3. They have a point, since none of these “academics” ever had to deal with anything requiring precision or data. It really doesn’t matter if your thesis on lesbian epistemological struggles has misspelled words, after all.

  4. John – you are absolutely spot on – of course universities need academic standards!

    Can you imagine how that university will be viewed by an international audience ?

    The Hull University will be a laughing stock to institutions in China – India – Far East – US – Canada – Europe and Australasia where these mad cap ideas would be laughed out of senate.