BY STEPHEN PAX LEONARD
The Government’s white paper on the freedom of speech crisis at British universities is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction. But, it does not go nearly far enough. Fining universities that de-platform speakers and giving academics an option to appeal beyond their employer hardly touches the surface. The Government needs to get to grips with a situation that has spiralled out of control, and is far more disturbing than many realise. In the Ministry of Lies that is British higher education, a ‘safe’ environment is one where political debate is suspended and where only cultural Marxists are allowed to exercise freedom of speech. The university as a ‘safe space’ is in fact a tyrannical ideology. This is hardly news, but is something the Government will have to dismantle if it wishes to save the reputation of the sector. The white paper overlooks something much more chilling than the safetyist double-speak and that is ‘cancel culture’: a thorny problem that is difficult to legislate against.
This time round, the Cheka, no longer clad in long black leather coats, comprises digital social media doyens; connoisseurs of fake outrage affiliated with Far-Left hate groups. ‘Cancel culture’ has been facilitated by intellectually impoverished social media platforms designed for dummies such as Facebook. The Chekists start by identifying a target (invariably a white male) by trawling through his social media posts. They are looking for any comments regarding race, religion, gender, ethnicity and even comments on Brexit, hunting etc. Conservatives and red-trousered dandies are target number one. Activists will then select a few comments, decontextualise them and using mob tactics create a virtual synthetic outrage by getting the community of online Chekists to ‘share’ the post they find ‘offensive’. Not only do they then bombard the university with ‘I feel triggered’ e-mails, they contact universities where the victim has previously been affiliated, funding bodies, friends and family. Their objective is not ‘to cancel’, but to destroy. On each such occasion, universities surrender to the mob and the academic is removed. His Pilatian colleagues claim never to have known him, and then the mob move onto the next target. Rather than an ‘open safe space’, the universities that condone these practices are more akin to a Kafkaesque nightmare for anybody who is not signed up to the Stalinist agenda. Such puerile behaviour should of course just be ignored. Surely, any rational person already knows that.
A great deal has been written about the cancel culture in British universities, but for obvious reasons insiders have not spoken about how some academics collaborate quietly with these thugs. The ‘triggered’ academics, the activists and the so-called ‘student journalists’ are all in fact part of the same virtual network. Working in tandem, the digital Left in academia is on the constant look-out for anybody who questions their groupthink, the ideology of conformity. This collaboration takes place in a number of unexpected ways. For instance, at my Durham College academics who did not attend lavish Gay Pride champagne receptions were placed on a black-list. Their future actions and words would be monitored by students with the hope that an accusation of homophobia could be levelled against them. Suspected Brexiteers were spied on. The Chaplain, a chauve fellow who spoke of ‘turning the College gay’ would spy on my conversations with the then President of the Senior Common Room. It was not long before the latter was forced to step down. His crime? Admitting to be a Tory. PhD students told me how if the Principal suspected a student questioned the hand-out-tampons-to-the-boys liberal progressive lie, she would simply ask: ‘what are your politics?’ If you were not hard Left, you had to be at least liberal-left. Otherwise, you were not welcome. An all-signed up Christian, her love and tolerance was limited to strict political parameters and she brooked no dissent. Some British universities don’t even bother to conceal their bias.
This week’s Government white paper does not attempt to tackle any of the issues related to this new brand of ‘progressive’ authoritarianism. At some institutions, the rot is almost existential, the Bolshevism widespread. To break up the ideological mob, radical reform is required. The Government needs to create a black-list of universities that have de-platformed speakers, ‘cancelled’ academics, spied on colleagues, bullied conservative thinkers etc. These universities that censor should be defunded (not fined).
Cambridge aside, it seems censorship is particularly prevalent at the kind of ‘universities’ that churn out gender studies ideologues and the like. If that is the case, defunding such institutions would help put the sector on an even keel. Over the course of twenty years, higher education has been degraded in Britain. Without question, the Polys should have remained Polys. Then, employers would have an easier time separating the wheat from the chaff and PhDs wouldn’t be stacking shelves. One runs the risk of being accused of elitism for such talk. But as I always say there is no problem with elites, providing there is mobility into them. At Cambridge, I used to shock the dons by telling them I approved of elites. They shared my views of course. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been teaching there. But the groupthink dictated they could not admit this publicly. And there you have it. British academia in a nutshell: Red Terror, groupthink and silent rooms without verbiage. If you are looking for a debate, you are better off going to the pub. Oh, but they are closed…
Stephen Pax Leonard is a writer, linguist, traveller.