Leading Article: Snap, crackle and pop along the Isis

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE MUTTERINGS at Oxford's most conservative high tables can easily be imagined. Manchester College's change of name to commemorate a gift from Sir Philip Harris, the carpet magnate, is bad enough. Worse, there is to be a Kellogg College, its name a homage to the breakfast-cereal fortune that provided its endowment. Is it a travesty to associate seats of learning with consumer capitalism?

Kellogg and Harris are by no means the first 20th-century millionaires' names over a porter's lodge. Sir David Robinson, who made his money in radio rentals and then retired to devote his energies to horse-racing, has given his name to a college in Cambridge. And the only person since Jesus to give his name to colleges in both Oxford and Cambridge is the late Sir Isaac Wolfson, of Great Universal Stores fame.

Sometimes it is brand names rather than rich men that are honoured. Part of the British Museum's Edo art collection is displayed in a gallery named after a Japanese camera company. The rooms housing the priceless Korean art collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum proclaim their debt to a Korean firm that is the world's biggest maker of microwave ovens. And the same museum's courtyard is named after Pirelli, an Italian tyre company more often associated with exotic calendars.

Who minds today that the prestigious Rhodes scholarships were endowed by one of the greatest scoundrels and racists of the British Empire, whose motto was 'equal rights for every white man south of the Zambezi'? Or that two universities in America bear the name of Andrew Carnegie, the ruthless founder of US Steel and author of The Gospel of Wealth, a tract advising rich men to give their money to good causes?

In fact, taking money from big business is a tradition that goes back to the beginnings of university education. Balliol College, Oxford began in 1268 when a noble offered to support a handful of students as penance for a quarrel with the Bishop of Durham. In time, no doubt, the words 'Kellogg College' will be uttered with similar reverence - and its coat of arms will be emblazoned with the onomatopoeic slogan from the Rice Krispies packet, rendered into suitable Latin as Strepitus, crepitus, fragor.