Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Full Nelson

I read the other day in the Queen's University alumni magazine (my hubby is an alumnus of that august institution) that the university gave an honoury doctorate to Nelson Mandela last fall. By coinkydink, I just read the following passage in Crump, one of my books du jour. (Written by P.J. Vanston, Crump is a novel that satirizes British academia; think Lucky Jim updated for the PC era):
There were four main buildings on the Greenwich campus of Thames Metropolitan University. Each building was identical - a rectangular block with an inner gravelled courtyard onto which corridors and rooms looked out. Crump's new place of work would be in building two - the 'Mary Seacole' building.

The other three buildings were called 'Nelson Mandela', 'Marcus Garvey', and 'King Abdullah', the latter named after a generous beneficiary and home to the newly-established Centre for Islamic Studies. There was also the 'Stephen Lawrence Learning Zone' which everyone called a library, because that was precisely what it was. There buildings had previously been called after Kings and Queens - Queen Anne, Queen Mary, King William, and King Charles, due to the extensive Royal associations of the area - but soon after moving in, the University Council had made the bold and pioneering decision to change these outdated Royal names to names of relevant significance which also, happily, reflected Britain's, and especially London's, multicultural society and the diverse nature of the university's staff and students.

There was nowhere else in Britain that had all its buildings named after people of colour, though the councils of not a few towns and cities had got a bad case of Mandela-itis in the 1980s, naming every new-built concrete monstrosity, whether a school hall, a student union building, or any concrete council office block, after a black South African leader who had never set foot in their town, and would be unlikely to ever do so, or even know of its existence.

Crump wasn't sure what sure what connection Nelson Mandela or Mary Seacole or any of the others had with Thames Metropolitan University or its buildings - he would do some research later - but he certainly wasn't going to question the wisdom of the name change which would, the report said, make the university 'more inclusive' and 'give black and minority ethnic students a sense of ownership'...
Queen's' Mandela-itis is, alas, too little too late--a lousy piece of paper instead of an entire concrete monstrosity. No wonder the great man didn't bother showing up in Kingston to receive it (but had it granted "in absentia," in honorary degree lingo).

No comments: