We present two important articles on the state of higher education from either side of the Atlantic.
The first, by Professor Matthew Goodwin, on the causes behind the toxic censorship now hanging over our institutions like a menacing cloud; the second, a more optimistic account by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on her teaching experience at the newly founded University of Austin in Texas, which was set up as a free-thinking, free-speaking alternative to the overbearing conformity of America’s Ivy League.
We begin with Professor Goodwin's article on higher education in the UK where
“a recent study by the Higher Education Policy Institute confirms we are facing a deep cultural problem that is becoming more pronounced with each generation. Crucially, unlike studies in the past, the Institute tracked the attitudes of a representative sample of university students over the past six years, between 2016, the tumultuous year of the Brexit referendum, and today. The findings are devastating.
They point to a new generation of university students who are increasingly supportive of removing from campus words, books, ideas, speakers, and events they find uncomfortable or offensive. This generation have been raised to prioritise their “emotional safety” above all else, and are more willing to impose restrictions on others, to curtail views they disagree with.”
What is described as ‘vindictive protectiveness’ in the US appears to have found its way over here, in a policy designed to
“transform these institutions into “safe spaces” where students are shielded from words and ideas that make them uncomfortable, and where anyone who questions or challenges this orthodoxy is either ostracised or punished.”
3 main factors have contributed to this atmosphere, according to Professor Goodwin.
The first is generational:
“[Gen-Z] were 13 when the Trump and Brexit revolts erupted and they spent their adolescence living amid what political scientists call “affective polarisation” — a far more divisive, volatile, and emotion-led politics in which Remainers and Leavers, liberals and conservatives, have simultaneously became more positive about their own tribe and more openly hostile toward the opposing side.
Given this polarisation is underpinned by the growing educational divide between more culturally liberal graduates and more conservative non-graduates, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that the university students who are self-selecting into universities have also become more focused on prioritising the needs of their own tribe and more willing to ostracise others.”
The second is ideological:
“Zoomers are also the first generation to have been born, raised and immersed in what sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning call “Victimhood Culture” — the rise of a new moral code in Western societies characterised by an overwhelming concern with deriving social status through claims to victimhood, extreme sensitivity to offence, and a strong dependency on turning to third parties to resolve disputes.
When translated into action “victimhood culture encourages students to stress their oppression, marginalisation, and victimhood as a means of acquiring status from their peers; while simultaneously turning to third parties (i.e., university administrators) to punish those who are seen to be “oppressing” or merely challenging their safety and beliefs.”
Moreover this culture of oppression is almost certainly being encouraged and amplified by the universities themselves:
“As my research, and that of others, has shown over the past four years, [they] are morphing into “ideological monocultures” where the ratio of Left-wing to Right-wing academics has increased from three to one in the Sixties to around eight to one today. Much like institutions in America, it is increasingly hard to find visible conservatives or other nonconformists on campus. Some students will now go through their entire degree never really knowing one at all.”
The third factor is organisational.
“Conservatives are as much to blame as the Left. By focusing relentlessly on the marketisation of universities, by talking about students as consumers, we have created a climate in which the demands of students, not academics, increasingly shape our intellectual culture.
Almost all the changes that are being imposed on higher education for largely political reasons…are now often made in the name of “student satisfaction.”
This is further encouraged by the rampant spread of university bureaucracy, in which cowardly administrators — none of whom really understand the point of academe — routinely bend over backwards to ensure that student-led demands to have events removed, academics investigated, and new restrictive policies implemented are fully met and satisfied.”
His conclusions are damning:
“It is perhaps no coincidence that amid these changes, only 25% of British people now think universities are offering “value for money”, and more people would rather their child studied for an apprenticeship than went to university. What a tawdry end for our once world-leading institutions.”
We conclude our coverage on higher education with a heartening report by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute on her experience as a summer schoolteacher in the newly established University of Austin in Texas.
“UATX is intended to be a free-thinking, free-speaking alternative to existing universities, and our summer school was aimed at attracting current undergraduates from precisely those places.
But while one could have forgivingly expected at least some of these students to be scared of questioning progressive orthodoxies, the reality couldn’t have been more different.
These students were hungry for knowledge, eager to learn and to excel — and yet many of them hailed from established institutions such as Dartmouth, Brown, Berkeley. Others came from overseas: the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of British Columbia in Canada.
My class was an equally diverse group of students: three women, one transgender person, and seven men. One student was of Moroccan origin, another of Indian ethnicity. On paper, they were a diversity, equity and inclusion officer’s dream.”
However, what disturbed the author
“was the near-absence of critical thinking and free inquiry in their respective universities. Even the Frenchman said there was very little debate in the Sorbonne. The American students suggested that most of their peers were just like them: eager to learn, debate, and compete — all in a civil manner.
What they worried about was a minority of students, professors and administrators who spoil the experience of college for everyone by grandstanding, virtue signalling, and enforcing the tenets of progressive orthodoxy. Those in student government and student media certainly didn’t represent the majority, they said. Their union policies and mantras spoke only to the small group inside their autocratic bubble.”
The parallels with the UK are striking:
“Harvard’s motto is a single word: Veritas. Yale’s is Lux et Veritas. But truth is the first casualty of progressivism. And as for light, there is a great deal more heat generated by the endless identity politics of the modern campus. Still, I came away from the UATX summer school feeling relieved.
Young people — some of them, at least — don’t want indoctrination. But the only way to get back to “advancing learning and perpetuating it to posterity” is to found new universities. Let’s not forget: even Harvard was a start-up once."
It's often said that when America sneezes the UK catches a cold. Let’s hope the opposite is also true: that what they’re attempting in higher education over there, they’re brave enough to try over here too.
The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:
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