The first change is that I wasn't the only parent on site - at least a third, maybe more than half of the prospective students were accompanied - in many cases by both Mum and Dad. That just didn't happen back in the day - you'd no more have wanted your parents on campus with you than your dentist. The generation war seems to have ended - at least as far as the middle classes are concerned. For that's the other thing that struck me as I sat in the cafeteria - how very middle-class the overwhelming majority of the prospective students seemed - far more so at this former Poly than at my Victorian red-brick alma mater. It does tend to reinforce the theory that the massive expansion of further education (and lowering of standards) has benefited the middle rather than the working classes - although of course it could be that middle-class youth just talk louder.
That's not to say that there's no radical counterculture anymore - although there isn't. The radical counterculture is now mainstream. The student newspaper points out that 'experimenting with drugs is, for many, an important and natural part of university life'. The 'Reclaim The Night' marches against male violence are now mixed-sex - it would have been a brave Yorkshireman in 1977 who attempted to join the women on the streets of Leeds.
(Although I did note that the legendary 'one in four women a victim of domestic violence' statistic is now apparently old-hat. According to Julie Bindel it's now one in two :
"In Britain, it is estimated that one in two women will experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking during their lifetime"
Whereas pretty much 100% of men really will experience physical assault - but let it pass.)
Where was I ? Ah yes. The 'one in four' stat now applies to rape, if the good students of the local Reclaim The Night march (three pages in the student paper) are correct :
My son went off to a little chat by his prospective lecturers, and left the cafeteria to darkness and to me. Why not fill a few unforgiving minutes by going along to one of these introductory chats ? After all, half the parents were accompanying their offspring to the lectures, and I could always claim to be a prospective student. I looked at the timetable of talks. Aha ! This should be good.
The head of Criminology at the University of the East of Wales turned out to be a shortish but hefty chap with a goatee, shaved head and a ring in each ear, dressed in a dark suit and black shirt - the deviant gangster effect being topped off with a pink tie. Obviously a man whose soul was in his work. The clicheometer was off the scale even before he opened his mouth - but he flattered to deceive, disappointingly sticking to listing the numbers of staff, students, and where the lectures were.
His sidekicks were a slightly camp chap in his thirties who specialised in 'Psycho-Social studies' and said 'it's about ..' a lot, and a strapping and self-assured redhead with a hard-to-place accent (Mancunian Irish ?) - between them they thankfully returned the clicheometer to full boost vertical - where it stayed for the rest of the lecture.
Psycho-Social started off, explaining to the prospective undergrads that the "common-sense solutions" to crime which might appear intuitively appealing needed to be replaced by a "sociological perspective". We had to, he said, go beyond common-sense solutions if we wanted to end poverty and racism. Nobody in his audience asked what that had to do with crime - we were sure we'd find out later (and we did). He listed the compulsory modules for the first year - 'Social Inequality' and 'Contemporary Critiques of Modern Society'. I'm pretty sure Peters Hitchens and Oborne won't feature in the latter. The general thrust was that views on crime and criminals in society at large were fairly simple - perhaps even naively so. But things were more complicated than that - a lot more. Why else would criminology be a subject you could study at university ? The good news was that you would become conversant with these complexities.
Ms Fit, resplendent in the sunshine flooding across the room (and slightly distracting Laban with the translucency - nay, almost transparency of her dress), took the floor. She spoke of 'offenders', of 'those involved in criminal acts' - and at this point I realised that the word 'criminal' had not once been spoken by these three criminologists. She reiterated that criminology 'also needs to challenge taken for granted or common sense views of crime, particularly those represented in the media'. The words ''Daily Mail" hung in the air. I breathed a silent prayer of "go on, say it !", but alas she resisted the temptation womanfully, moving on to 'the social forces and social divisions which influence which acts count as crimes'. Have you ever wondered, she asked, why white collar crime is not investigated by the Criminal Justice System ?
And so it went on. And on. I'll pass over 'factors such as unemployment, poverty ... coupled with interrelated divisions along the lines of gender and sexuality, 'race' (in quotes - because it doesn't exist) , age and economic inequalities'. I think you get the picture. I gathered that :
Year One is spent knocking those stupid 'common-sense' ideas out of you, and replacing them with 'the sociological perpective', in a slo-mo version of the first few days of an Exegesis course, or your first few months in the Army, where you drop the baggage you've brought with you, and embrace the culture of the group.
Year Two is spent discovering that prison is at once a tool of social control and an expensive way of making bad people worse - or it would be if they were bad people. On analysing the stats (you see, that's what criminologists do - look at real data), and discovering that 'incarcerated offenders' are statistically more likely to be poor and/or black, it is but a short step to the conclusion that they have been convicted because they are poor and/or black.
Year Three is spent analysing the Daily Mail, whose writers and readers have not done years 1 and 2, and bemoaning its influence.
I looked round the room at the eager young faces, all athirst for knowledge. Poor sods, I thought. Let's hope the social life makes up.
Psycho-Social took the floor again. What kind of job will a criminology degree get you ? Where do our graduates go ?
#1 - further study
#2 - social work, probation service, "community work" and other jobs in the criminal justice system
#3 - teaching
#4 - personnel (loads of 'social science' grads end up there. That's why you get asked your ethnic origin when you apply for a job)
A great wave of cognitive dissonance came over me. Both lecturers had said explicitly that they and their department were challenging 'society's' view of crime. Yet they were providing the social workers and probation officers of today and tomorrow. I got no inkling from their chat that the state-funded EEW criminology department was out on some left-wing limb - indeed rather the opposite - that theirs were the views of mainstream UK criminology (and have been IMHO for some thirty years).
Yet they were apparently the rebels, the iconoclasts - despite controlling the universities and great chunks of the criminal justice system . In their shoes, wouldn't you be tempted to wonder why, after years in which your views have completely dominated the education system, those views have so stubbornly refused to take root among the general population ?
Who and what was this 'society' and what power does it actually have ?
I came to the conclusions
a) people who've not done Criminology and/or read the Daily Mail
b) not a great deal