Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Growing up it was almost unconscious to be against the Right, probably down to the fact my parents are Labour voters, although whether they are now, remains to be seen. It seems in the last few years my position on the political spectrum has me torn on conceding that at heart I am quite conservative but I am still very much supportive of Liberal views. The rot on the Left in my opinion is routed in the narcissism of those that now take advantage of the minorities they claim to represent. In reality, it’s nothing more than political grandstanding mixed with an unhealthy dose of identity politics. In the end, I may just have to resign myself to the centre and reconcile with myself that in the end, I misjudged the right wing. It’s not the evil bogeyman the mainstream would have you believe. It’s not perfect by any means, go too far right and you end up staring at the same identity politics that have strangled all discussion and open mindedness on the left. The danger currently is that the current hysteria will see the rise of Far Left and Right wing organisations trying to outdo each other, and potentially resorting to violent means of silencing opposition. This has already happened in Berkeley, the former home of the Freedom of Speech movement. Now just reduced to ashes under the foot of Anti-Fascist Fascists.

The reason I write this is because I stumbled upon an by the College Fix regarding the group Turning Point USA. Santa Clara University voted to deny the pro-capitalist organisation for many reasons such as ‘that the group may invite conservative speakers, and that allowing it would be a stand against “humanity.” The claim is actually made in the video and upon reading this absurd rationality I immediately gave up on Academia. Let me put this as simply as possible. This group’s existence is not against anyone’s humanity. The censoring of it, in my opinion, is a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression. The Director of the Multicultural center is quoted as saying:

“This organisation, nationally and on this campus, is against our ideals as a university with a Jesuit philosophy and more than anything it is against our humanity … This is not right, this is not what we stand for as a whole university.”

Don’t you love it, when a single authoritarian-minded individual can dictate an entire university? I assume Turning Point held them to ransom or maybe their forcing people to attend their meetings at gun point? No. Of course, they aren’t. Their just a conservative organisation that is more than likely completely harmless. But as I mentioned with this stupid stigma, some Liberals quiver at the idea of allowing conservative speakers to speak at their university. And what an insult to liberalism this university is for kowtowing to those that aren’t prepared to have their ideology challenged. Academia should not simply be a way to reaffirm your beliefs. But it should challenge them.

Warne who voted in favour of the group stated that ‘the debate centered around the possibility of the club inviting conservative speakers to campus as well as the organization’s affiliation with the Professor Watchlist, an aggregated list of articles published by a variety of news organizations on professors who have said or done controversial things’.

The Professor Watchlist is, for the most part, a record of Lecturers who spout radical ideas, bordering on possibly even racist. Although as we all know you can’t be racist to white people. Examples include ‘A sociology professor at the University of Oregon openly stating that he “advocates a ‘red-green’ alliance to abolish capitalism” and “considers the collapse of the Soviet empire a setback for human progress.”.’ There’s also a race and ethnicity professor at Boston University went on a twitter rant that suggested ‘slavery was a “white people thing” and “white college males the problem population.”.

So whether you agree with the list or not, it’s alarming that this is rhetoric coming out of some universities. The other reasons for Turning Point being blocked unsurprisingly relates to the overstated views of Milo Yiannopoulos who has made being a provocateur into an art form. You may be wondering how one man can possibly do so much damage to their fragile minds. Just remember that everything to the right of the left is a Nazi and you should be fine. What’s also interesting is that Caleb Alleva, president of the TPUSA chapter seeking recognition at Santa Clara was quoted by the Fix over the phone as saying: “We stated very clearly that we did not want to invite Milo.”

As a whole, it’s pathetic crying, especially if the organisation doesn’t even intend to invite Milo. I would like to think the group gets recognition and can go about holding talks without disturbing those to close minded to give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, we would have to live in an ideal world to believe that. And let’s be honest, the ideal world is already in tatters.


 

Firstly, if you haven’t read part one on No Platforming, it can be found here.

Student Activism is an interesting addition to this series I’m writing. No Platforming is easy to oppose as its downright censorious and certainly hinders the idea that academia should be home to the free exchange of ideas. Even ones that are morally debatable. The act of the suppression can easily ignite support for any individual. It’s why No Platforming does the exact opposite of what it intends. It gives a clear sign to some prospective students, they and their ideas may be unwelcome. That university does nothing to resist this growing mentality, poses a great threat to any kind of progress, and sets people up to be afraid of even the harshest critique.
I have no issue with student activism, provided it doesn’t interfere with the student’s study time, and that of their peers. However, in more recent times protesters have taken increasingly more drastic measures to make a point of whatever ills them. This can go as far as hindering accessibility to a certain area, stopping people from hearing a particular speaker, or even more recently storming the stage and committing what is clearly an aggressive takeover. The irony happens when he goes on to make the point that microaggressions exist despite the fact his female friend made what some could constitute a verbal threat to Milo Yiannopolous. Here’s what frustrates me most, it’s the fact he can’t see how his actions could have potentially brought serious harm to Milo Yiannopolous or anyone in the audience. There are many ways to protest a speaker and this in my opinion is not one of those ways. Milo’s tour of the US has shown academia over there to be an utter shambles. Whether students are literally coating themselves in fake blood, or as mentioned storming the stage. They are acting like children. These people are supposed to be our future.
It only gets worse because these students think harmful opinions should not even be discussed. Let’s be fair, a safe space has its purpose of protecting those who have experienced serious trauma. But it should not be a place to avoid the hard topics. An article on Inside Higher Ed supports this as writer Zachary R. Wood states that;

Uncomfortable Learning, a student group of which I am co-president, tried to bring Suzanne Venker, an anti-feminist social critic, to the college. Consequently, I received a torrent of ad-hominem attacks. Among other things, peers called me a misogynist and men’s rights activist who was endorsing hate speech. In the end, we had to cancel the event for fear that it might get out of control and perhaps even endanger the speaker.

The beautiful thing with that single paragraph is that it aptly describes the mob like mentality that defines these protesters. And the fact that they throw Men’s Rights activists at him like it’s an insult. I guess a movement that looks at the experiences of men and their issues more closely is a bad thing. I get it okay, MRA’s aren’t perfect but every group in existence has bad eggs, and Feminism is no exception. As for Hate speech. A term loosely defined and seems to be used with the malicious intent of shutting down a speaker regardless of views. Anything negative nowadays can be considered Hate Speech .
Zachary’s suggestion of space to discuss anything is a reasonable request but the point is, he shouldn’t have to even suggest it. Universities should allow discussion everywhere, whether private or public. It boils down to the fact that University’s need to stop coddling students. It’s that easy really. He also states how spaces to even discuss a topic are fading into obscurity;

Such a space is rarely available now on American campuses. Most classes in the humanities and social sciences are either lectures, seminars or a combination of the two. In each case, teachers create the course syllabi and generally set the agenda. Outside of the classroom, in dining halls, dorms and other places on a campus, students talk about various subjects. But the dining hall is a place for eating, just as a dorm is a place for living. Neither location is intended for planned discussions, for students to explore and discuss the ideas they hold.

There is also the additional point to be made that lecturers are to some extent to blame for how students act such as with the case regarding Melissa Click. How much truth in that is questionable. Most lecturers encourage an active discussion. However, there are some like for instance Melissa Click who would go as far as demand muscle to remove a student journalist simply recording an event. Because of her actions, Click lost her job. But that didn’t stop her going to the press to blame everyone but herself despite the video showing that she tried to forcefully remove someone from an event. Something she had no right to do.

As Activism consumes the minds of so many, does this, in turn, suggest that politics have had too much impact on university campuses. Is the very idea of someone being right wing or conservative so hard to acknowledge or even try to respect. Are they even conservative professors. Well, the Atlantic had this to say on that matter; ‘Finding out wasn’t easy, in part because so many conservative professors are—as they put it—closeted.

The idea that someone let alone a university professor should shield their perspective is an incredible thing to hear. And they describe an interview with one Republican professor;

One tenure-track sociology professor even asked to meet Shields and Dunn in a park a mile away from his university. “When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about,” they write. “Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican.”

It leaves me honestly speechless that at a place where the marketplace of ideas is supposed to exist, there are some ideas that can’t be shared simply down to someone’s politics. I find as I watch these protests unfold. I wonder honestly what these students hope to achieve in the long term. After all, looking back historically. Before the 1900s, women couldn’t even go to university let alone get a degree. I look at things now, and as a society everyone regardless of race or gender has every opportunity to succeed. The only reason you fail at all is if you constrain yourself.
The conclusion then to this part is that student activism is a double edged sword. Although many will probably see this article and disagree with my points. My overall fear is directed towards the future because it looks like we are almost at the cusp that identity will dictate our lives. Not the worth of abilities but what we look like. The next part of this will look at Identity Politics and why I think it’s done more to divide this world than actually unite it under the concept of equality.

No Platforming

No Platform is a policy of the National Union of Students (NUS) of the United Kingdom. Like other no platform policies, it asserts that no proscribed person or organisation should be given a platform to speak, nor should a union officer share a platform with them. – NUS No Platform Policy

The no platform policy has existed for many years and its singular intent is to selectively limit who can and cannot speak at university campuses across the U.K, with protesters actively disrupting speakers or actively attempting to prevent students from attending an event. This can be for a variety of reasons but the policy mainly applies to those who may hold racist or fascist views but it does extend to other views that the union may deem offensive, such as transphobia. This piece aims show just how many people of varying backgrounds have been deemed unsafe for holding a disagreeable perspective.

Firstly, radical feminist Julie Bindel was No Platformed after the NUS concluded she held transphobic views. Julie Bindel responded to this with her own article on the Guardian. In the article she claims that her exclusion proves that this is an anti-feminist crusade, and the refers to how a male student leader accused student supporters of Bindel of being ‘transphobes’ and ‘whorephobes’. This accusation stems from statements made in Bindel’s 2004 article ‘Gender benders, beware‘. However, it should be noted that Bindel recently apologised for her comments in this particular article. There is a point in her article on No Platforming that I agree with, and it is that ‘the current climate in universities of creating “safe spaces” in which no evil must enter is pathetic.’ and she is right about this, especially if we consider that Academia is supposed to be the place where controversial and otherwise offensive views are challenged and countered instead of being suppressed. However, she also directly counteracts her above ‘creating safe spaces statement’ by stating later;

“Initially, the University of Manchester decided to no platform me and not my opponent, Milo Yiannopoulos, a vocal anti-feminist, (though he too was later dis-invited, after protests over the hypocrisy). In doing so, they handed me a gift. Here is proof that this is an anti-feminist crusade, and nothing at all about so called safe spaces.”

So which is it Bindel? is NUS creating safe spaces or are the two unrelated. She is also wrong on this being an anti feminist crusade, No Platforming can and has affected both sides of the political spectrum. But this isn’t the first time the NUS has coddled students or acted in their interests. It’s been happening for many years, and is only becoming more prominent.

For instance in 2010, two members of the NUS forced the University of Durham’s student union to cancel a proposed debate on multiculturalism. An article written by Mark Tallentire mentions how the ‘student debate featuring two BNP politicians’ was cancelled due to fears of violence. Furthermore, the article states Anna Birley from the NUS said that she was ‘confident the debate would have been intelligent, responsible and an opportunity for students to challenge offensive views; and was disappointed the focus had become the threatened confrontation outside.’ On the other hand Simon Assas from the (The Unite Against Fascism – UAF) group, ‘called it a victory for common sense and for people who wanted to stand up against racism and fascism.’ The article goes on to state how the NUS’s president of the time Wes Streeting ‘believed there was no place on university campuses for the BNP; and that the idea the NUS, rather than the BNP, had caused a welfare and public order issue was preposterous.’ Paul Nicholls, Co-founded the facebook group Durham University Students for Freedom of Speech in response to the cancellation of the debate. The group gained a lot of support from students at the university. Nicholls claimed that this was a ‘NUS betrayal of students outside the chamber where the debate would have been held.’ This happened six years ago but even so despite what Bindel claims, No Platforming is something that can and may at some point affect us all. It also suggests that this growing act of censorship is being initiated only by a select group within the NUS, and that the NUS itself is not entirely to blame.

In addition, more recently Nick Lowles The head of a campaign which seeks to counter racism and fascism in the UK was allegedly “no-platformed” by the NUS on the grounds that he is “Islamophobic.” The Independent reported on how this may have been tied to a facebook post by Lowles that was shared by a user on twitter, in which he claims black students opposed his appearance on an anti-racism platform. Lowles in the interview for the Independent believed that the students took issue with his position on condemning on-street grooming by gangs;

“My crime, it seems, has been to repeatedly call on the anti-racist movement to do more to condemn on-street grooming by gangs and campaigning against Islamist extremist groups in the UK and abroad. I make no apology for either position. We need to be consistent in our opposition to extremism – from whatever quarter it comes.”

He also adds that he has no issue with the NUS as a whole, only with those who are ultra-leftists. Another man that has been No Platformed, is veteran activist Peter Tatchell who was No Platformed for being racist as claimed by Fran Crowling. She had refused to go on stage at the Canterbury Christ Church University unless he didn’t attend. The reason purportedly being;

‘Ms Cowling stated in emails to event organizers that she could not share the stage with Mr Tatchell, because he signed an open letter in the Observer last year supporting free speech and against no-platforming, the practice by some universities to ban speakers because of their views.’

This statement alone suggests what many have come to fear from some students on University campuses, they are literally afraid to confront or face someone in a open debate or discussion because they simply can’t handle someone else’s perspective. Its unsurprising then that Tatchell would also come to Lowles defence, he said to the Independent that Lowles campaign has a ‘trail-blazing’ record of fighting fascism and racism. He suggests that ‘the idea that there should be any attempt to prevent them speaking is profoundly disturbing. It smacks of political sectarianism of the worst kind.’ The most important part of Tatchell’s statement is that he feels that the some within the NUS are more concerned with fighting their fellow activists than actually contesting real racists or fascists. It should be noted that very recently Mr Tatchell came to the defence of the person who attempted to censor him stating that whilst he was disappointed she wouldn’t debate him, he respects her right of choice. He is also asked if he would debate Manny Pacquiao over his controversial comments that gay people are “worse than animals.” His reply was:

“I’d be prepared to share a platform with any bigot in order to challenge and expose them. Not just Manny, but Vladimir Putin, Robert Mugabe. I would, and have, shared platforms with lots of bigoted people in the past, and I think successfully have exposed their prejudice.”

Tatchell showing the best way to overcome offensive speech is to challenge it head on, instead of conjuring up petitions to get a speaker cancelled.

Brendan O’Neil, a journalist has also been critical of No Platforming and the rising opposition to freedom of speech. He wrote in the Telegraph how these leaders think controversial ideas should be crushed rather than contested. He also aptly describes how students at Cardiff University have tried to erect a Greer-deflecting forcefield around their campus. Greer was No Platformed because she also believes transitioning men are not women. This led to the women’s officer at Cardiff University, Rachael Melhuish, petitioning specifically that a lecture Greer was booked to give be cancelled, stating in the petition;

‘While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.’

However, despite the university stating the debate would go on, Greer cancelled the event. Zoe William’s piece in the Guardian seems to show a mixed perspective, on the one hand she suggests as an example that nothing is gained by allowing those openly racist to express views on multiculturalism. But she does conclude that the best way to counter transphobia is not silence it, but by taking the person’s argument to task, by argument and persuasion. The truth of the matter is you win nothing by turning your back on those who hate, it merely stirs them to action. If you give them a platform you can show how perhaps absurd their ideas are, and therefore any support they would have had vanishes in that instant. Another example of censorship at Cardiff University is that Dapper Laughs was also banned from performing there. A petition was also used and declares that ‘Misogynistic humour should not be supported by an organisation that stands for equality.’ This is also one of many reasons by comedians refuse to go on stage at universities. Offensive humour is simply not allowed due to the sensitive nature of some students.

Furthermore, O’Neil’s article goes on to add that ‘it’s now commonplace to hear students describe certain ways of thinking as a threat to their “mental safety”. Where once students might have raged and blasphemed against The Man, now they set up “safe spaces” where no offensive word may be uttered or saucy image displayed.’ He uses many examples to show how the expression of students on campuses are being stamped on such as how ‘the student union at University College London banned a Nietzsche reading group, claiming it was encouraging students to dip into “fascist ideology”. Even philosophers aren’t safe from campus bans.’ and He also perfectly sums up this rising epidemic of ever more restrictive policies;

“Feminists, thinkers, songs, magazines, Israelis — nothing is safe from controversy-allergic student officials. Whenever they crush or hush things they deem offensive, they use the same justification: that it’s important to protect students’ self-esteem and “mental safety”.”

Another example of No Platforming this time relates to controversial journalist Milo Yiannopolous, a writer for the site Breitbart. Milo has seen controversy follow him wherever he walks, especially since he was one of the few journalists who didn’t outright condemn the Gamergate consumer revolt. In a Skype call done by the Independent Journal, Milo states how;

‘They are not banning just conservative voices – but anyone who exists outside progressive liberal bubble. The loss to well-rounded education is incalculable. They can’t get exposure to opposing views. At university, you ought to be challenged. You ought to be uncomfortable, you should be confronted with disagreement. It’s a place of education – challenging your beliefs.’

The whole point of going to University as he states is to challenge yourself, and that may mean you will meet people who see the world in a completely different light, and you gain no victory by protesting them. Because as the cases above show, feminists, comedians, conservatives, and liberals who don’t follow progressive dogma may face being met with a wall of pitchforks and torches by either the NUS or their fellow students.

Finally, recently Sean Faye at the Independent came out in defence of No Platforming, by attempting to point the hypocrisy of the likes of Julie Bindel. Faye also goes on to state that:

‘Perhaps it’s true that this is merely “special snowflake” behaviour. However, to my mind, the coddled and sanctimonious voices here are not the students engaging in “no-platforming” or withdrawing from debates but an elder generation of activists petulantly claiming they are being silenced from their “right” to be heard in the national press.’

In the article he misrepresents what free speech is. It’s a fundamental right of expression that goes beyond law and our human rights, and is nothing to do with the ‘eye of the beholder’. He also claims that its ‘the frequent defence of the oppressor who knows that minorities lack the same power to exercise their own free speech in approved ways.’ The issue with this statement is assuming that a person lacks power based on skin colour, when that is simply untrue especially on campus. Thus Faye concludes that the censorious nature of No Platforming is a part of Free Speech. And in that instant has condemned himself, and everyone around to him to this possibility of being silenced by student activists who they themselves feel entitled to control your right of expression.