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May 2, 2008

nothing new

The sorting of students into colleges and the marketing of colleges to prospective applicants sometimes seems a corrupt business, a marketplace in which prestige is sold to the highest bidder. It's a domain of glitzy advertising, coaches and test-prep services, rankings, scouts, and networking. At least none of this is completely new. In 1506, the principal of an Oxford college called Staple Hall allegedly promised six shillings and eight pence (6s 8d) to a man who would introduce him to the Bishop of LLandaff so that he might persuade said Bishop to send a boy of his household to Staple Hall. A ward of a bishop was a good prospect to donate money after graduating. The principal allegedly failed to pay the promised 6s 8d, leading to a suit whose outcome I don't know, but whose proceedings would probably seem perfectly familiar half a millennium later.

(Perhaps justice caught up with the principal of Staple Hall, for not long afterwards, his institution lay in "ruynes." Around 1570, William Lambarde wrote about the halls of Oxford: "I have hearde that theare hathe been dyvers others of this kinde, and it seemeth true by the ruynes that yet appear in syghte. I redd in a case that theare was some tyme a house of learninge called Staple Hall; but where it stoade, I have not hytherto learned.")

Sources: W.A. Pantin, Oxford Life in Oxford Archives, 1972, p. 6; John Alan Giles, History of Witney, 1852, p. 46.

May 2, 2008 9:40 PM | category: academia | Comments


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