One of the great achievements of the West is the university, where the free exchange of ideas takes place, and various points of view can be thrashed out openly and without fear of reprisal or discrimination. At least that’s the theory, anyhow. For quite some time that was more or less the case. But in these days of political correctness, and the stranglehold of left/liberalism, it is getting harder and harder to have a genuine free flow of ideas on most campuses.
Indeed, many Western universities are now places where a liberal education has given way to an illiberal education. The hegemony of the secular left is extremely hard to break through nowadays, and those who dare to dissent from the PC point of view do so at some considerable risk.
Numerous examples of this can be offered. Indeed, whole books have been written on this topic. Two older critiques of Western higher education were Allan Bloom’s 1987 volume, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education (1991).
More recent exposes include Freefall of the American University by Jim Nelson Black (2004), and Indoctrination U:The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom by David Horowitz (2007). In Australia Kevin Donnelly has penned several volumes also looking at the sad state of contemporary education: Why Our Schools are Failing (2004), and Dumbing Down (2007).
As noted, there are plenty of examples of leftist indoctrination, political correctness, and campus censorship. The most recent was reported in the press a few days ago. It involved a campus group which wanted to display posters and brochures which showed a picture of an eight-week old unborn baby.
The campus group was gagged by the University of Queensland, and put on 12 months’ probation. The group was ordered to vet all future material by three officials. The group had simply wanted to display the material near the student cafe.
The student union President had this to say in defence of the censorship: “the student union voted in 1993 for free, safe abortion on demand so all women have a genuine choice when faced with unwanted pregnancy”. It seems that only a small minority of students voted on that referendum, with about 1900 pro-choice votes, 1400 against and 200 abstaining. The UQ has a student population of 30,000.
When asked if the vote precluded other viewpoints being put forward in debate on campus he said: “It does”. So much, it appears, for freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. It seems that a mere six per cent of the student body can hold the rest of the students captive to their particular ideology and agenda.
Such is the state of most university campuses today. There are certain topics which are simply off limits. Abortion is one such topic. Homosexuality is another. So too is evolution, or challenges to it. There are certain issues which are simply taboo in Western universities, and if dissidents dare speak up to the contrary, they can expect swift and harsh punishment by the campus thought police.
In the former Soviet Union dissidents were sent to the Gulag for daring to question the official State line. Increasingly, students or staff who dare to challenge the PC orthodoxies on campus are likewise sent to the academic Gulag, be it in the form of bans, fines, censorship or public humiliation.
But it is worth looking further at the lame excuse offered by the student union President. A 15-year-old referendum on the issue of abortion, which only a minority of students participated in, is now the basis of complete campus censorship on the issue. Amazing!
So let me see if I have this straight. If, say, 20 years ago a mere fraction of the student population voted to support Apartheid, does that mean that the campus must even today ban any discussion which dares to question that decision? Is that the story?
Or what if 1900 students voted a few decades ago to allow only pro-American political speakers on campus? Does that mean all critics of American foreign policy must still be gagged today?
Or as one letter writer put it, “If it’s consistent, the union must now oppose any attempt by Kevin Rudd to reintroduce the republic issue because the question was settled in the 1999 referendum.” Indeed, what kind of imbecile and brain-dead idea is this? A tiny handful of students are deciding what issues can and cannot even be discussed on campus. This is clearly a case of academic totalitarianism. It is certainly not academic freedom.
One used to think that the university was a place where all the big ideas could be discussed and debated, knowing that a free society depends upon a free flow of ideas and beliefs. But it seems today there is only one set of ideas and beliefs which are permissible on campus: those of the secular left. And woe to those who dare to question the perceived wisdom.
No wonder we are dumbing down our students. Instead of teaching them to think and question and follow various points of view, they are being told what to think. Any dissent is met with swift reaction. Halls of higher education are now simply halls of higher indoctrination and propaganda.
A free people depend upon the free flow of ideas and information. As the universities move to further restrict such freedoms, the freedom of society as a whole will also shrink. People from around the world used to risk their lives to come to a free and open West. How long before that traffic starts moving in the other direction?