News that the Invincible Donovan University might, just might, pick Edinburgh as the base of operations to fuse academic rigour with transcendental meditation could be seen as little more than an attempt to rejuvenate a woefully inaccurate stereotype of free love as the staple of the student lifestyle: the courting of the Edinburgh and Glasgow press by both Donovan and the University sponsor, David Lynch via the 61 year-old folk singer's revisiting of his psychedelic hits certainly has the whiff of gimmick about it.
So, traditional academic disciplines, according to Donovan, are to be taught via the practice of transcendental meditation as developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. One presumes, of course, that Donovan knows exactly what he is doing: 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' and 'Mellow Yellow' are, after all, expert ventures into surreal pop. That's the music degree more or less covered. David Lynch will, surely, help out on the media studies side of things; and there's more than enough material in Twin Peaks to inspire essays on the human condition. The meditation could fruitfully be slotted in towards the end of lectures where students pursuing more traditional disciplines might opt for sleep. For best effects, Transcendental Meditation should be taken for twenty minutes, twice a day. Although some might prefer to read the paper.
But on a more serious note, there's a real concern as to how compatible Donovan's proposal really is with genuine academic pursuit. Particularly suspect is transcendental meditation's derivation from a pseudo-religious system of consciousness, one which includes states such as “Cosmic” and “God” consciousness. If by “traditional university disciplines,” Donovan means critical analysis techniques derived, in essence, from the Enlightenment (and taught in most mainstream institutions) one wonders how the two might be reconciled. Equally shaky is the Invincible University's pursuit of “total enlightenment” – a concept key Enlightenment thinkers, such as Lord Kames, steered well clear of. Furthermore, there exists a difficulty regarding the University's aim to “bring about world peace.” While noble in itself, it is unusual for a serious academic institution to forward a political stance or ideology so readily. It's not inconceivable that this might prove antithetical to the free exchange of ideas within the institution.
Clearly, there are are contentious issues regarding the educational opportunities the Invincible Donovan University presents. Worth remembering, however, is that transcendental meditation, far from attracting academic scorn, has received attention from major research universities the likes of Yale, Harvard and Stanford. While no plans have just yet been announced to add the practice to Ivy League syllabuses, researchers have observed physiological effects ranging from the reduction of blood pressure to increased brain functioning. Given the time and money spent on improving educational techniques – the success currently being reaped from phonetic literacy teaching, to name a fortuitous example – should Donovan et al. indeed score a pedagogical blinder with this one then surely the venture is a worthwhile addition to the debate? It's just unfortunate that success or failure of the venture comes at the risk of higher-education careers for a group of guinea pig students.