Stephen James: Universities – stop dancing the wokey-kokey

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By Stephen James.

The Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP called the hounding out of Kathleen Stock a “terrible stain” on Sussex University.

He also said that intimidating scenes surrounding the Israeli Ambassador at the London School of Economics were “deeply disturbing.”

It is a sad fact that these are just the tip of the iceberg in a sector that has allowed the left to proliferate and implement their Leninist mantra.

“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

Vladimir Lenin

In September, outgoing Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, spoke virtually to the Universities conference in Newcastle. The focus of his speech centred on the fact that many universities across the nation have embraced ‘cancel culture’ many at the expense of a quality educational experience for students. He went so far as to tell the room full of vice-chancellors that they risk undermining public confidence in higher education in the United Kingdom.

At that time, Mr Williamson (whose name is still sponsoring the Freedom of Speech Bill) was a leading voice against cancel culture and a champion of freedom of speech, especially on university campuses. He was also vocal in his support for free speech during two similar events in 2020.

Former home secretary Amber Rudd was scheduled to give a speech at Oxford University as a part of their Trailblazers Series. Thanks to student protests Ms Rudd’s speaking invitation was withdrawn by the organisers a mere 30 minutes before she was scheduled to go on stage.

A few days later, also at Oxford University, history professor Selina Todd was removed as a speaker at an event she helped coordinate. The 50th anniversary of the Ruskin College’s inaugural Liberation of Women conference.

In both instances, the women were “de-platformed”, or essentially silenced, because their views did not align with a vocal portion of the student body.

When did universities become so weak?

When did university become a place where you can only surround yourself with ideas that you agree with? Why are students suddenly afraid to hear something that challenges how they think and feel?

University is supposed to be a place to expand your mind, not confine it. A time when we explore new ideas, not stick to our beliefs like dogma, silencing anyone who challenges it.

Professor Kathleen Stock OBE is one of the most recent victims of cancel culture. Her story is particularly disturbing because not only was she silenced, but she was also ultimately forced out of her job.

Professor Stock spent 18 years teaching philosophy at the University of Sussex until her unfortunate departure in late 2021. The reason for her departure was an interview she gave to a Brighton newspaper in 2018. In the interview, she said she believed that transgender women (biological males) should not have unrestricted access to places where women undress or sleep.

In 2021, the interview resurfaced, and a group of students began a campaign to see her removed from teaching. She fought back but ultimately resigned from her position. Interestingly, shortly after her resignation, more than 200 academic professionals signed a letter supporting Professor Stock’s academic freedom.

Another example is Dr Jordan Peterson’s recent speech at the University of Cambridge. The world-renowned Canadian psychologist and lecturer is one of the most prominent voices on the centre-right today.

In 2019, Dr Peterson was scheduled to speak at Cambridge when his invitation was revoked. The reason – he was photographed standing with someone who was wearing a shirt with an anti-Islamic phrase. The vice-chancellor of Cambridge, Stephen J. Toope himself called it “endorsement by association”. 

There is hope…

But as bad as ‘cancel culture’ has gotten, there is still hope for recovery.

One sign of that hope is shortly after Dr Peterson’s cancellation, Cambridge University underwent a significant ideological upgrade when the University Council approved a new “free speech policy”. In a victory for common sense, Dr Peterson announced that he was once again invited to speak at the universityHis speech can be seen in its entirety at the end of this post.

The signatures of the academics in support of Professor Stock. The adjusted policy of Cambridge University that allowed Dr Peterson to speak showed that the sector does have the ability to self-regulate. However, in my view, regulation is needed to stop these in the first place.

Nadhim Zahawi’s Department is currently guiding the ‘Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill’ through the House of Commons.

It will ‘encourage’ our universities to become places where students will be able to think about and confront difficult ideas. Importantly, it will also enable them the opportunity to form their own views once again… Rather than adopting the views of left-wing lecturers who dominate the sector.

It is my great hope that the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Higher Education will push this bill through quickly. In the process, they should avoid any amendments that will remove its teeth.

Stephen James is an award-Winning Teacher, Specialist Leader of Education, Conservative Friends of Education Founder and Chairman of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association.

To join Conservative Friends of Education: Click here

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