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A truth universally acknowledged, it is exceedingly difficult to think of any useful question to which Cornel West is the answer. However, that is the claim being made in The Guardian today, that black professors – Cornel West is one – will be the savours of us all as we contemplate the horrors of Brexit. I’ll admit to being less than thoroughly convinced of the explanation too:

Who can save the post-Brexit economy? Black professors
Bernadine Idowu-Onibokun

How remarkable that this thesis is being put forward by someone who hopes to become a black professor:

Dr Bernadine Idowu-Onibokun is the visiting lecturer and diversity and inclusion champion at the Dental Institute

Seriously, the Dental Institute has a diversity and inclusion champion? Trying to make sure the incisors and molars all get along together? Sheesh. Teeth being, for those who don’t know, not one of those medical problems which vary by race. And yes, a lecturer (for Septics, read adjunct professor) is going to be one of those arguing for an expansion of the professoriate on the grounds that more places means one might be had personally.

However, we should not make fun of either the afflicted nor the ambitious, so to treat the argument seriously:

The BME Early Career Researcher (ECR) – How to Stay in Academia conference, organised by the diversity and inclusion team at King’s College London, was the very first BME-specific conference in London that covered several disciplines. It was conducted in response to data that illustrated an under-representation of BME early-career researchers at lecturer level upwards. With only 0.5% of professors in the UK being black, there is a desperate need to ensure more members of the BME population remain in academia and work their way up to become professors, otherwise how else will young people be inspired?

The first error is to fail to spot age structures in the population. Sure, the “black” (as opposed to BAME) population is more than 0.5% of all of us but that’s not who we draw our professors from. The 2011 Census told us that BAME were 4% of 80 year olds and 24% of 4 year olds (from memory so don’t check it). We cannot therefore look at the entire population when deciding upon appropriate numbers at a stage in a career. It is, at the very least, the percentage of the black population in the right age group we should be looking at.

But it’s the second which is a much greater one. We’re essentially being told that more black professors will be good for the economy. Well, no. OK, this is where we have the cheap jokes about their only teaching grievance studies and what good does that do? But if we were to leave aside such jibes we’ve still got to understand that universities, and the professors in them, are a cost to the economy, not a benefit. Education might be a benefit – not in grievance studies, obviously – but that’s an argument for more efficient professors, not more professors.

Therefore having more professors, of whatever melanin content, isn’t something that’s going to aid us in economic growth, is it?