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Top cosmologist to teach at humanities dream school

Krauss will bring cosmology into the humanities

By James Dacey

The physicist and popular-science author, Lawrence Krauss, will join a star-studded array of academics to teach at a private university in London called the New College for the Humanities.

The new university is the brainchild of A C Grayling, a philosopher at the University of London, who is well known in the UK through his regular appearances in the media. Grayling says the university will bring a much needed boost to the arts and humanities in the UK, which are being squeezed in state-supported universities due to budget cutbacks. Its business model takes inspiration from the US Ivy League universities as students will pay £18,000 a year for tuition fees – double the maximum that most UK universities can charge.

Students will be offered a very broad syllabus and will be encouraged at every turn to take a critical outlook. They will be treated to lectures by world-leading academics including Richard Dawkins who will teach evolutionary biology and science literacy, and Stephen Pinker who will cover philosophy and psychology.

Among this dream team will be Lawrence Krauss, the author of Physics of Star Trek and several other popular-science books. He told me that he plans to give an introduction to the modern view of the universe, and he will touch on other subjects, including quantum mechanics. “Science literacy will play a large part in the program, as it should,” he said. “A literate person should have the same kind of fluency in the ideas of science that they have in the arts and humanities.”

Krauss says that he will pitch the course to be understood by students with little scientific background. “Based on my teaching experience at a variety of US institutions, I believe one can proceed rather far in this regard with minimal background – with motivated students it should be fun” he said.

But not everybody in the UK has been as enthusiastic as Krauss about Grayling’s new venture. Since the philosopher announced his plans for the new university at the beginning of June, he has been attacked by critics who have dismissed the venture as elitist or opportunistic. Last week, both Grayling and Dawkins were both confronted by angry protesters during public lectures, with Grayling’s talk being evacuated after a smoke bomb was let off. Even the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has chirped in with a letter to the Telegraph in which he labels the university as “rejects college” – for rich kids who weren’t bright enough to get into Oxford and Cambridge.

Grayling has since struck back by emphasizing the fact that 30% of students will be offered financial support, funded largely by the fees of the wealthier students. He also argues that foreign students at state-funded universities already pay in the region of £18,000, and many universities have been increasing their overseas student intake for some time. You can read Grayling’s full arguments expanded in this opinion piece published in the Independent yesterday.

So I bid Lawrence good luck. But with continuing criticism, including a big thumbs down from the president of the National Union of Students, it may not be plain-sailing. The celebrity professors will have to use all their brain power to win the hearts and minds of the British public.

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