With all the furore about students “no platforming” those whom they dislike, for whatever reasons, it is worth recalling that a core problem for libertarians is that while making universities fully private, and thereby removing this behaviour as a public policy issue requiring political interference or comment, would be an answer to a degree, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. Also, even if universities were all private, such as the UK’s University of Buckingham, there is still a good case for the owners of said to make the case that universities aren’t, if they deserve the title of universities, meant to be “safe places”. I thought about the point when reading a recent Facebook comment and I wrote this:
Universities are funded, on the whole in countries such as the UK, by taxpayers, and via loans, the students. Now, if we had a purely free market in higher ed, then the institutions could, conceivably, set their own rules about debates and whatnot. (Vive la difference, etc.) But even if they did, the people running a university worthy of that term realise that one of the key reasons for attending a uni in the first place, however it is owned, is to broaden the mind and come into contact with debate, to learn how to debate, how to identify errors and problems, and so on. And these “no platform” people, even if they think they are liberal, have no conception of what a liberal education really means. Of course, if a private debating society wants to make it clear up front that it will not invite persons for various reasons, it can of course do what it likes, in the same way that an editor of a newspaper can choose to run letters or not, to moderate blog comments, or not. A journalist is not obliged to print letters from people that might be libellous, for instance. In the current state-run context of academies, however, taxpayers are entitled to expect that universities and other places respect free expression as a default position, subject only to the avoidance of speech deemed threatening to public order as defined under English Common Law and where specific threats are issued against people. (Hopefully those caveats are pretty tight for the purposes of argument.)
I like this quote, expressed with usual diamond-hard clarity, by Ayn Rand, on free speech and what it does and does not involve:
While people are clamoring about “economic rights,” the concept of political rights is vanishing. It is forgotten that the right of free speech means the freedom to advocate one’s views and to bear the possible consequences, including disagreement with others, opposition, unpopularity and lack of support. The political function of “the right of free speech” is to protect dissenters and unpopular minorities from forcible suppression—not to guarantee them the support, advantages and rewards of a popularity they have not gained.
The Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .” It does not demand that private citizens provide a microphone for the man who advocates their destruction, or a passkey for the burglar who seeks to rob them, or a knife for the murderer who wants to cut their throats.
With tax-funded universities, though, there is the case of whether such an organisation should ban, say, a free market radical like the late Miss Rand from speaking, on the grounds that she “advocates their destruction”. Or should a current UK university, funded as they are, host speakers who are, for example, preachers of hate against Jews, Americans, white males, entrepreneurs, scientists, logicians, or indeed any other of the sort of persons who are probably on the receiving end of the current “safe spaces” stuff. Should we wait for such places to be privatized while this situation persists? My brief answer is that the default setting must be let people of any kind speak on a taxpayer-funded academy unless the persons so speaking are clearly and identifiably at war with a country (such as a figure who is, or has, served in ISIS, or some other hostile force). I am not sure this is a very clear answer, though, because defining “at war” clearly varies.
Meanwhile, the madness continues, such as against the difficulty of STEM subjects.
Finally, for some light relief, as a pisstake on university life that is timeless, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is a great read.
Academies are paying comprehensive schools to take troublesome pupils, a study claimed yesterday, indicating that schools are finding stealthy ways to be selective.
It was suggested that thousands of children are being pushed out by schools desperate to improve their results. Some failing schools are closing and reopening with a smaller intake as a way of excluding difficult pupils, according to the Centre for High Performance, run by Oxford and Kingston universities.
I expect there to be a storm of outrage.
And a rise in applications to those academies so named and shamed. One “difficult” child can ruin the education of dozens of others. Parents know and fear this. If the elite truly wanted to improve the education of the masses, they would give comprehensives the power to exclude as well. But then what would happen to those children no school would take? That would happen. No school would take them. They would not be educated, by their own choice.
More than 50 years of education reforms ‘have not helped social mobility’, “reveals” the Guardian
That is because the reformers’ response to observing the problem of underachievement among poorer children was not to cure it, nor even to explain it, but to conceal it.
I liked one of the comments on this piece, which reports on a piece of feminist glaciology.
Take it away, commenter “Schacar Mevsky”.
Employing whiteness theory, I hypothesize that the authors are attracted to the glacier because it is white, especially at the “peaks” of the mountains, while the brown run off is down “low.” White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here but infects the study from start to finish. The authors try to mask this by cultural appropriation of terms like “postcolonial analysis” and “feminist glaciology,” but they manifestly privilege phallocentric Western techno thinking. They construct binary, deontological “evidence,” having failed to consider that the glacier they are raping with their instruments is sacred to the Peruvian indigenous peoples, who have sacrificed 16-year old girls to it for millennia because its water “contains its sacred powers” (p. 95). Where, finally, in this allegedly subversive study are the Discourses of the Diasporic Imaginary of the marginalized? The authors privilege the glacier as an “icon.” But what about the Discourses of the iceberg? Of the lowly snowball? Of the ever-maligned piss hole in the snow?
This notion might attract non-comedic attention from academia. Maybe it already has.
The above mockery makes a bit too much sense to be five star academic bullshit, but the guy should stick at it. What he gets so right is the way that these idiots quite quickly reach the stage of trying to out-idiot each other. And by the way, in case you are wondering, “Diasporic Imaginary” is not a misspelling of “Diasporic Imagery”, or some such slightly less confusing thing. This is a reference to actual academic discourse.
Those piss holes in the snow take me back a few decades. I do love a bit of Michael Caine discourse.
Just how bad and how widespread is the kind of nonsense that is lampooned in the above comment? Are all academies in the Anglo-Saxon world as intellectually deranged as some parts of some of them clearly are? Or is it merely that Anglo-Saxony is huge and contains lots of academies, and so if you look for any particular sort of academic insanity you will find it?
The University of Harvard has decided to eliminate the job title of ‘Master‘, (but not the degree title) for certain members of staff after protests that the title had connotations of slavery, although they maintain that there is no connection between the protests and the change, and degrees at ‘Master’ level are unaffected.
Harvard has not accepted that the use of “master” was a link to slavery, but it has responded to a campaign for a name change.
It will mean a change in job title for 24 members of staff – but will not affect other uses of “master”, such as a master’s level degree.
Of course, with one apparently trivial point conceded, other demands continue:
Student campaigners are also calling for a change in the official seal of Harvard Law School, with a sit-in being held this week.
The seal includes the coat of arms of 18th Century college donor Isaac Royall, who as well as establishing the college’s first professorship in law, was a notoriously brutal slaveholder.
Well yes, seals belong on the shore, in the seas, or perhaps at Lake Baikal etc., so I find some common (seal) cause, and harbour no ill-will.
Otherwise, I have to say that I know next to nothing about American Universities, and I could not name the (5?) members of the ‘Ivy League’ with any certainty, but I do sense in this a canary dropping drowsily off its perch in the coal mine of self-referential academia as the flatulence builds up, with no outlet for its escape.
* Inclusive terms for those who are not ‘Jacks’.
Update: Harvard Law School has yielded to protests about its crest, which I assume is the same as the ‘seal’ issue. A flock of these, they are.
“Top universities are failing poor students”, said the Times headline. I was concerned. What exactly were the top universities doing to cause them to fail in their obligations to the poor students? If I had read that the universities were failing to process student loan applications in a timely manner I would have been distressed. A student finance screw-up is no joke if the family does not have much spare in the bank. If I had read that universities were disadvantaging poorer students by requiring that they pay for ostensibly optional but practically compulsory extras in order to complete their courses I would have been outraged. If I had read that the academic staff were marking down students for irrelevant attributes correlated with class such as accent I would have been sceptical – my experience of academics is that their biases tend the other way – but I would have certainly wished a stop put to it, if it were confirmed to be happening.
If, if, if. So many ways those smooth Oxbridge types could be letting down the young proletarians under their charge. Then I read the article.
The proportion of poorer students at Britain’s leading universities has stalled over the past decade and has even fallen at some institutions.
About a sixth of students from disadvantaged backgrounds started at Russell Group universities last year, compared with a third of wealthier students.
On average, students from poorer homes made up 20.8 per cent of new undergraduates in 2014/15 compared with 19.5 per cent a decade earlier.
Millions of pounds has been spent by universities to widen access and attract students from deprived neighbourhoods. Oxford and Cambridge took the lowest proportion of students from poorer backgrounds out of the 24 Russell Group universities, according to analysis of official data by the Press Association. At Oxford 10 per cent of students were from disadvantaged homes while at Cambridge it was 10.2 per cent. Ten years ago, poorer students made up about one in eight of Oxbridge entrants.
I should have guessed. “Top universities are failing poor students” is just one of those little in-jokes favoured at High Table. What it means is “State schools are failing poor students”.
…for the striking London black cab drivers whose hard won skills have been rendered obsolete by Uber and Addison Lee, just as we should remember with pity the thousands of drivers of hansom cabs whose hard-won skills with horses were rendered obsolete by the coming of the internal combustion engine. I am not being flippant or sarcastic. To lose one’s accustomed livelihood to new technology is a tough spot to be in, and there will be many reading this, some of them highly paid at present, who should look at Trevor Merralls’ situation and tremble.
But that pity should not extend to offering to keep Mr Merralls forever in the style to which he has become accustomed simply because he was born working class, or to stifling the opportunity for self-employment that Uber offers to its drivers (also working class), or to depriving Londoners who could not afford black cabs of the ability to take a cab at a reasonable price at any time day or night, and which will, as one of the Guardian commenters put it, “actually go to exotic destinations like Lewisham”.
I like these people:
Free speech campaigners have secretly evaded a student union ban on two speakers who were deemed to have broken rules on causing offence.
The speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled men’s rights activist, and Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, were originally due to address the University of Manchester’s free speech and secular society in October to debate tensions between feminism and free speech until the student union stopped them.
Student leaders said that Ms Bindel’s views on transgender people were “transphobic” and that Mr Yiannopoulos was a “professional misogynist” and “rape apologist”.
However, Manchester’s free speech society proved to be made of sterner stuff. Its members created a new association, used a lecture hall as a venue and publicised the event only on the morning that it was to take place.
– The Times, today.
Several aspects of this story lead me to wonder if I have slipped into a nicer timeline than the one I’ve been living in recently.
It was about students standing up for free speech against po-faced authoritarians. In 2015.
The university didn’t surrender. In 2015.
Better yet, it actually helped the good guys:
The university authorities themselves were part of the plot, agreeing to provide a lecture theatre as a venue for the rescheduled event and arranging for a large retinue of security staff.
More fun things to note include the fact that the process of nimbly outwitting the lumbering Students Union by adroit use of social media was obviously huge fun. These days if you want to build up a bank of happy memories of a rebellious youth to comfort you in your old age, you rebel against the Students Union. You could make a name for yourself that way. So could the Student Union apparatchiks make their names, as sour, whiny prematurely-withered prunes who couldn’t stop the music. No one will boast that they were part of Manchester Student Union in the good old days.
I have a personal grudge against Julie Bindel, and I could get irritated by Milo Yiannopoulos. Three cheers for them both for this.
It is indeed interesting, and worrying, that students are so sensitive and censorious today. But I have a question for the hand-wringers, the media people, academics and liberal thinkers who are so disturbed by what they’re calling the ‘Yale snowflakes’: what did you think would happen? When you watched, or even presided over, the creation over the past 40 years of a vast system of laws and speech codes to punish insulting or damaging words, and the construction of a vast machine of therapeutic intervention into everyday life, what did you think the end result would be? A generation that was liberal and tough? Come off it. It’s those trends, those longstanding trends of censorship and therapy, that created today’s creepy campus intolerance; it’s you who made these monsters.
– Brendan O’Neill.
The bigotry and oafishness of these places is now a well-known feature of life in the US and here in Europe. These places are causing damage; these young people are, remember, future voters and legislators. Have we perhaps reached a stage where not going to such a place is in fact a desirable state?
O’Neill argues that the current generation hasn’t arrived at its intolerance from nowhere:
The Yale snowflakes are pathetic, yes. But what’s even more pathetic is the ridicule of the snowflakes by the very generation who created this world in which words are seen as wounding, judgement is considered harmful, and everyone is treated as fragile. Having claimed for 30 years that offensive discussion, or porn or racist newspapers, create a ‘hostile environment’, can the older generation really be surprised that students are now setting up Safe Spaces? The Safe Space is the logical solution to the notion that words and images cultivate a ‘hostile environment’.
Item: Another example of just how messed up American education now is.
Universities seem increasingly to focus on the so-called student experience over the students’ education, with universities putting huge resources into public relations, league tables and student surveys. University has become the place for teenagers to go when they wish to delay being an adult, rather than being the bridge to independence it was once considered to be. As someone who chose to leave university, it felt like I was simply putting my life on hold for three years, when I really wanted to jump into the world of work. This feeling was further enhanced by spending time on campus, where it felt like all students were being kept together and shielded from the outside world.
– Jennifer Richards
A gentleman living on the Isle of Wight took his school-age daughter on holiday to Florida in term time. The child’s absence from school was noted…
The Local Education Authority issued him with a fixed-penalty notice for £60, for failing to ensure that his child attended school regularly. He refused to pay this ‘penalty’ (a bureaucratic alternative to prosecution). The ‘fine’ was doubled (by the bureaucrats) to £120, he refused to pay, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court by the authority to face a charge under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 (from John Major’s time).
Sure enough, he argued, my daughter wasn’t in school, big deal. The offence was not made out. Here is the wording in question.
Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.
(1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.
So, for those (many) parents harassed, threatened and fined by bureaucrats, they have been acting as if the law required total attendance at school.
The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out, on the prosecution’s case, the case failed. What troubles me is that I find that, in England in 2015, refreshing.
But as Mrs Thatcher once said ‘Just rejoice at that news!‘.
I liked this posting from American economist Bryan Caplan:
Questions non-economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:
1. What makes you think you’re qualified to teach them?
2. Who are you to decide what your kids should study?
3. What about socialization?
4. How come you’re not teaching [insert pet subject here]?
5. Won’t this hurt your kids later in life?
6. Aren’t you hurting your kids’ development right now?
7. When will they interact with girls?
8. Isn’t there more to life than academics?
9. Aren’t you undermining social cohesion?
10. Why are you turning your kids into brainwashed freaks?
Questions economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:
1. Doesn’t it take a lot of time?
I suspect, though, that even economists might ask a few of the questions in the first list, if only because they will hold the same sort of statist ideology when it comes to schooling that the vast majority of other people, in my experience, seem to have. Even so, Caplan’s posting is food for thought and here is an earlier article by him about the homeschooling topic, with shedloads of links.