07. How Did Western Universities Become Left-Wing Madrasas?

How Oxford taught the no-platformers a lesson

Column for the Spectator about the no-platforming of Amber Rudd at Oxford and the Free Speech Union’s first victory. It was published on 28th March 2020. 

Three weeks ago Amber Rudd travelled to Christ Church, Oxford, to speak to students about her experiences of being a female politician. She was there at the invitation of the UNWomen Oxford UK society, which had organised a number of events in the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March. But half an hour before she was due to appear, Rudd was told the event had been cancelled. Nothing to do with coronavirus, which had not yet swept the country. Rather, it was because a number of students had protested about the ex-Conservative MP being allowed to speak. Rudd had been no-platformed.

The society published an apology on its Facebook page, but not to the former home secretary. Instead, it apologised ‘for all and any hurt caused to our members and other wom*n [sic] and non-binary people in Oxford over this event’. According to the society’s now ex-president, Felicity Graham, she had to pull the plug after protesters drew attention to Rudd’s links to the Windrush scandal. ‘It was ultimately my decision but every single person on the committee was against and I was given no choice,’ she said. ‘It was the Oxford African and Caribbean society — who hold a lot of power — who really applied the pressure and forced us to cancel.’

Incredibly, this was the second such incident at Oxford in less than a week. Five days earlier, Selina Todd, Oxford professor of modern history, had been no-platformed by the organisers of an event at Exeter College to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Women’s Liberation conference. She was given slightly more notice than Rudd — she was notified the night before — but the reason was the same. A group of activists had objected to Todd being allowed to speak and the organisers had capitulated. The astonishing thing is that she had warned her hosts back in October that some trans activists might object to her speaking because of her ‘gender critical’ views, but the organisers had assured her they wanted to hear from a wide range of voices. Having been told this, Todd threw her weight behind the event, enlisting the support of the Oxford history faculty, securing funding and asking her friends in the media to write about it.

Trying to put a stop to this kind of censorship is one of the reasons I’ve set up the Free Speech Union. Some apologists for the no-platformers have argued they were just exercising their speech rights. After all, they weren’t obliged to give Amber Rudd or Selina Todd a platform. But no one is arguing the organisers had to have invited them in the first place. That was entirely a matter for them. However, having issued the invitations, they were under an obligation not to rescind them, because that is effectively granting a right of veto to any group of activists who want to silence those they disagree with.

I fired off a number of letters to the Oxford authorities, including the Proctors’ Office, pointing out that allowing protesters to no-platform speakers whose views they disagree with is contrary to the university’s procedures, codes of practice and policies with regard to freedom of expression, as well as a potential breach of s43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. It’s worth recalling that that legislation, which imposes a legal duty on higher education providers to uphold free speech, was brought in by a Conservative government that had grown tired of seeing Tory MPs being constantly no-platformed. Gavin Williamson, the current Education Secretary, has threatened to introduce further measures to strengthen free speech unless universities do more to defend it, but I’m not convinced that’s necessary. Rather, we need to make sure the existing rules are upheld. There’s no shortage of high-sounding declarations at Oxford about the university’s commitment to free speech, including a robust statement by Timothy Garton Ash and Ken Macdonald on the university’s website. Unfortunately, that principle is more honoured in the breach than the observance.

I have now heard back from the Proctors. They have upheld the Free Speech Union’s complaint about Rudd’s no-platforming, de-registered the society responsible, and ordered it to apologise to her. Let’s hope that sends a message to the protesters. The way to win an argument with a political opponent is not to ban them from speaking, but to engage them in open debate. Free speech is for every-one, not just those who share your narrow sectarian point of view.

The free speech crisis in Britain’s universities

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Essay for the Critic about my trip to Durham University to participate in a debate, the torrid time I had there, and the conservative student I met in the bar afterwards, led me to draw some bleak conclusions about the state of free speech in Britain’s universities. It was published in February 2020.

Last August I was contacted by the president of the Durham Union to see if I’d like to speak in a debate on 29 November. The motion was “This House Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” and he wanted me to oppose it. I agreed, partly because I’m in the process of taking my 16-year-old daughter Sasha to see different universities and this was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

But I often do this sort of thing, visiting about half-a-dozen student debating societies a year. In the event, I took Sasha and my 11-year-old son Charlie. The reason for including him was that Queens Park Rangers were away to Derby the following day and I planned to drive back to London via Pride Park so we could all go to the match. Charlie, like me, is a passionate QPR fan.

The debate kicked off at about 8.30pm on a cold winter’s evening. In my corner I had the ex-Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe and on the other side were Natalie Bennett, ex-leader of the Greens, and Charlotte Austin, a local Momentum activist.

I’d never spoken at the Durham Union before, but imagined it would be a bit like the other debating clubs: that is, a fairly formal environment in which robust discussions take place in a convivial, grown-up atmosphere. I wasn’t expecting to be treated with fawning adulation, just a modicum of respect. That’s the norm, I thought. Otherwise, why would people like me give up their time and travel halfway across the country to talk to students, given there’s no financial reward?

About 300 undergraduates packed out the chamber, with my two children sitting in the front row. Natalie Bennett spoke first and she was highly critical of Boris, as you’d expect. I spoke second and, predictably enough, was pretty scathing about Jeremy Corbyn. But neither of us were discourteous towards the other. There was a bit of joshing, but all very good-humoured

It was when charlotte spoke that things took a wrong turn. She didn’t approach the dispatch box, but simply stood up and began reading from a prepared script. Almost immediately, she started attacking me. This wasn’t light-hearted banter, but rancorous, personal stuff. Among other things, she accused me of being a “misogynist” and a “homophobe”. It was the kind of language you’d expect at a nasty, factional meeting of the local constituency Labour Party, not a debating society at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities. I was taken aback, not least because it was all happening in front of Sasha and Charlie.

After Steven Woolfe spoke, students were invited to make speeches from the floor and that’s when things really got out of hand. A young man whom I later discovered was called Jack Pearce and is the co-chair of the Durham University Labour Club accused me of being a “paedophile” to cheers from some members of the audience. This was then echoed by Charlotte, who shouted out “nonce”. More cheers.

I turned to the president of the Union, expecting him to instruct the ushers to remove Pearce from the chamber or, at the very least, tell him and Charlotte to stop using such inappropriate language. But he did nothing.

I asked the Labour Club co-chair why on earth he thought I was a paedophile and he embarked on a long, rambling explanation involving a jokey piece I’d written in the Spectator some months before in which I said that it was only because I was married to a sensible, no-nonsense woman that I’d avoided getting into the mess Prince Andrew had. I meant being interviewed by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight — she had asked to interview me when I was involved in a kerfuffle over a government appointment a couple of years ago and I had declined after my wife advised against it.

I made all this clear in the article. I emphatically wasn’t talking about being friends with Jeffrey Epstein. But according to this young man — and the lead speaker for the proposition — that was tantamount to confessing I was a paedophile. This was mortifying. I had secretly hoped that Sasha and Charlie would be impressed seeing me holding forth at the dispatch box — look how good daddy is at arguing! — and now they were witnessing my public humiliation. This was the first time they’d ever seen me do anything like this and my fear was they’d come away thinking this is how their father is always treated when he appears in public — he gets called a “nonce” by one of the invited speakers. In fact, nothing like it has ever happened before.

After the debate, I parked the kids back at the hotel and went for a pint at the Union bar where I spotted Pearce out of the corner of my eye. He came marching up with about a dozen friends and started barracking me, accusing me of defending a government that had “murdered” 120,000 sick and disabled people and God knows what else. I asked him in a calm voice whether he had any qualms about accusing me of being a child rapist in front of my 11-year-old son. “No, because you’re a Tory tosser,” he said.

After he’d left, another student approached and I braced myself for a second onslaught. But this person was diffident and polite and immediately apologised for the way I’d been treated. It was from him that I learnt about Pearce’s role in the Durham Labour club. He then told me a heart-rending tale of how he’d been persecuted in his first year at the university when some left-wing activists had found out he held conservative views. I’ll call him John, but that’s not his real name.

A few comments John had made in an online chat room had been dug up — as a Catholic he had reservations about priests being forced to marry gay couples, for instance — and these had been circulated around his college, as well as on Facebook, in an attempt to brand him as a “homophobe”. He’d also committed the sin of defending Israel’s right to exist, so that meant he was in favour of “ethnic cleansing” too. He quickly found himself socially ostracised.

Even the second-year student whom his college had assigned to him as a “mother” — every fresher gets a “parent” to look after them in their first few weeks at Durham — started mocking his religious faith. She encouraged a gay friend to make a pass at him as part of some cack-handed scheme to “expose” him as a “bigot”. Things then went from bad to worse. As John made his way from tutorials to the college library, abuse was hurled at him from all directions: he was accused of being a “racist”, as well as a “Catholic c***”.

A Labour activist threw a plate at his head in the college dining room and hurled him to the floor. Another activist accused him of being a “transphobe” — because he’d questioned whether transwomen are women — and slapped him in the face. In the end, he’d been forced to start afresh in another of Durham’s colleges, and since then the left-wing Torquemadas had found a different Tory to pick on. But being targeted in this way had made John’s first year at Durham a miserable experience. He was the first person in his family to go to university and this wasn’t what he was expecting. Someone less psychologically robust could easily have dropped out.

As a conservative white male, I was aware that life can be pretty tough for people like me on university campuses these days, but I had no idea it was quite this bad. I asked John whether he thought Durham was exceptional, but he said no, not judging from the experiences of his Tory friends at other places. On the contrary, he thought Durham had more conservatives than most — 20 per cent of the student body, rather than 10 per cent. “We’re in the midst of something like the Chinese cultural revolution,” he said. “If you don’t toe the line on gay marriage or the Israel-Palestine conflict or if you challenge the idea that Britain is a cesspool of racism, misogyny and homophobia, life can get very unpleasant very quickly. There’s zero tolerance for dissent.”

John’s bleak diagnosis was corroborated by a recent piece of research done by Eric Kaufmann and Tom Simpson for Policy Exchange. They interviewed a representative sample of 505 British undergraduates and found that 61 per cent of Brexit supporters said they’d feel uncomfortable about expressing their views in front of classmates, compared to just 11 per cent of Remainers. It’s tempting to think the more conservative students are being cowed by a vociferous, hard-left minority, but Kaufmann and Simpson found that support for censorship on campus is quite widespread.

Forty-five per cent of students agreed that “ensuring the dignity of minorities can be more important than freedom of expression”, with only 17 per cent disagreeing. Forty-eight per cent endorsed “safe spaces” and 67 per cent favoured “trigger warnings”. Twenty-seven per cent wanted Ukip banned from campus.

Incredibly, 44 per cent thought Cardiff University had been right to stop Germaine Greer from speaking after she’d been branded a “transphobe” by activists, with only 35 per cent disapproving. Little wonder that when politicians and journalists with conservative views try and speak on campus they often find themselves no-platformed or, if their talks are allowed to go ahead, come face to face with violent mobs. That happened to Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was caught up in a scuffle when he spoke at the University of the West of England in 2018, and last year Peter Hitchens’s invitation to speak at Portsmouth University was rescinded when some students protested.

Section 43 of the Education Act (No. 2) (1986) requires university governors to take “such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured” and they’re expected to publish a code explaining how they’re going to do this at their universities. Unfortunately, the words “such steps as are reasonably practicable” gives administrators plenty of latitude, allowing them to cite “security concerns” and the cost of preventing outbreaks of disorder as a pretext for banning certain speakers from campus.

And they were granted even more wiggle room by the Equality Act (2010), which imposes a legal obligation on universities to prevent the “harassment” of students and employees with various protected characteristics and “foster good relations” between them and their peers, which includes a requirement to “tackle prejudice”. So a group of activists wanting to stop Nigel Farage participating in a debate on campus about immigration could argue that allowing him to speak would be a breach of the university’s “public sector equality duty”.

The equality and human rights commission, which has statutory authority when it comes to advising public bodies on how to comply with the Equality Act, issued some guidance last year, pointing out that, in fact, allowing people with right-of-centre views to speak on campus wouldn’t meet the legal threshold for “harassment”. But few university vice-chancellors appear to have read it. Most are under the impression that they’re required to balance the right to free speech against the need for “emotional safety” on campus, with considerable discretion as to where they should draw the line.

That was the rationale invoked by the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Stephen Toope, when he rubber-stamped the decision of the theology faculty to rescind its offer of a visiting fellowship to Jordan Peterson last year. “Some difficult decisions will always be necessary to ensure that our universities remain places of robust, often challenging and even uncomfortable dialogue, while balancing academic freedom with respect for members of our community,” he wrote. Peterson’s sin was to have been photographed standing next to a fan wearing a “proud Islamophobe” T-shirt.

Of course, inviting members of the far left to speak on campus is never considered a threat to the emotional wellbeing of students — it’s only “hate speech” if the speaker happens to be a conservative or a gender-critical feminist. For instance, the Labour activist and Guardian columnist Owen Jones has never been no-platformed, even though many of his views are anathema to conservatives. This double standard reflects the fact that the overwhelming majority of academic staff, including those tasked with “balancing” the duty to uphold free speech against other, more nebulous concerns, are left-wing. According to a poll in the Times Higher Education Supplement on the eve of last December’s election, 54 per cent of university staff said they intended to vote Labour, 23 per cent Liberal Democrat, five per cent Green, five per cent SNP and only eight per cent Conservative. In other words, left-of-centre academics outnumber conservatives by almost nine to one.

A combination of this clear bias among university lecturers and the energetic persecution by activists of anyone identified as having right-of-centre views, as happened to John at Durham, helps explain why, in 2018, a whopping 70 per cent of students said they intended to vote Labour. That fell back a bit in the run-up to the last election, but only thanks to a surge in support for other left-of-centre parties, with 19 per cent saying they were going to vote Lib Dem and 18 per cent Green. Only about 10 per cent said they intended to vote Conservative.

The conventional wisdom is that young people have always been left wing, but that’s not true. In 1983, 42 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voted Conservative, compared to 33 per cent who voted Labour. As recently as 2010, Labour only had a one-point lead over the Tories in that demographic. But in the past 10 years, support for Labour has steadily increased as more and more young people have enrolled at universities, with 62 per cent of 18-24 year-olds voting Labour in 2019 and only 19 per cent Tory.

Universities now function like left-wing madrassas, a fact which helps explain why a person’s level of education is now such a strong predictor of voting intentions in Britain. Labour has become the party of graduates and the Conservatives the party of non-graduates.

What can be done to protect people like John and ensure there’s more tolerance for dissenting views on Britain’s campuses? The recent Tory manifesto included a pledge to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”, but so far no proposals have emerged from Downing Street. In a follow-up report, Policy Exchange recommended introducing an Academic Freedom and Free Speech on Campus Bill which makes it clear that freedom of expression takes priority over emotional safety. In addition, it would create a National Academic Freedom Champion within the Office for Students and task him or her with overseeing a network of free-speech champions across the higher-education sector. Fantastic idea, but will it be followed up?

For my own part, I’m setting up a Free Speech Union — a mass-membership organisation that will protect the speech rights of its members. Students and academics are welcome to join (just email info@freespeechunion.org), but it will be open to anyone who thinks their free speech is in jeopardy, such as the social worker being investigated by Social Work England for tweeting his support for J.K. Rowling after she was branded a “transphobe”. When John reported the activist who threw a plate at him to the university authorities, they did nothing. I like to think that if he was a member of my union, we could have brought some pressure to bear on Durham to do more to protect him. Not from intellectual challenge, obviously, but from physical intimidation and abuse.

After my appalling treatment at the hands of the Durham Labour club, some of the students who attended the debate complained and the president of the Union finally took action, suspending Jack Pearce from the society for two terms and forbidding him from setting foot on the premises.

The only silver lining to my Durham trip was that QPR fought Derby to a very creditable draw the following day. Hopefully, Charlie will remember that long after he’s forgotten seeing his father branded a “paedophile” by a gang of left-wing thugs.

Why are college students so left-wing?

Column for Spectator USA about the leftwards drift of American college students. Published on 30th October 2019.

The French economist Thomas Piketty, who made his name with Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), has another book out next year called Capital and Ideology in which he looks at changing patterns of voting behavior in Britain, France and America. One of his findings is that, until quite recently, the more educated voters were, the more likely they were to vote for right-of-center parties. Now, the opposite is true. Which might explain why Donald Trump declared at the height of the 2016 presidential election: ‘I love the poorly educated.’

Piketty has already published a paper about this and the data he’s accumulated is eye-catching. For instance, just 45 percent of people who graduated high school but didn’t go to college voted for Hillary in 2016, compared with 70 percent of those with master’s degrees and 75 percent of those with PhDs. This isn’t an exact inversion of the 1992 presidential election, but it’s close: 55 percent of those with a high school education voted for Bill, her husband, but only 41 percent of those with a college degree.

There’s plenty more evidence of the leftward shift among college graduates. A Pew survey carried out before the last presidential election found that 24 percent of college graduates describe themselves as ‘consistently liberal’, compared with just 5 percent in 1994. Among those with graduate degrees, the change was even greater – from 7 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2015. And, as we know, the young in general are becoming more left-wing. A Harris poll this year found that 61 percent of Americans aged 18-24 had a positive reaction to the word ‘socialism’, compared with 58 percent reacting positively to the word ‘capitalism’. That echoes a Gallup poll in 2018 which found only 45 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans view capitalism favorably, down from 68 percent in 2010.

What accounts for this shift? My theory is that it’s due to the increasingly left-wing tilt of college professors. The expert on political bias in the American academy is still the late political scientist Stanley Rothman. His evidence shows that the proportion of US professors describing themselves as conservative declined from 34 percent in 1984 to 15 percent in 1999 and those describing themselves as left-wing increased from 39 percent to 72 percent. And the shift has continued in the past two decades. According to a more recent study of 51 of the top 66 ranked liberal arts colleges by Mitchell Langbert, 39 percent of them had no Republican staff on their faculties at all.

It’s not just the professoriat. Samuel J. Abrams, a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence, decided to research the political views of college administrators after the Office of Student Affairs at his university started organizing events with titles like ‘Stay Healthy, Stay Woke’, ‘Microaggressions’ and ‘Understanding White Privilege’. He surveyed 900 ‘student-facing’ administrators and found that liberals outnumber conservatives by 12 to 1. When Professor Abrams wrote about this for the New York Times last year, he discovered that the situation was even worse that he thought: his office door was vandalized, students circulated petitions calling for him to be fired, anonymous individuals filed harassment complaints against him and when he appealed to the president of Sarah Lawrence to defend his right to free speech, she reprimanded him for writing an op-ed without her permission.

How did American colleges become so biased over the past few decades? According to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, authors of The Coddling of the American Mind (2018), the left-to-right ratio across a majority of subjects was about two-to-one throughout most of the 20th century and only began to change in the late 1990s. That’s when the professors from the Greatest Generation, many of whom had found their way into university thanks to the GI Bill, began to retire. They were replaced by boomers who had come of age during the social protest movements of the 1960s and, in many cases, saw themselves as continuing to fight for social justice in the academy. That was particularly true of the social sciences and the humanities, where the left-to-right ratio is now, on average, higher than 10-to1. And this imbalance isn’t likely to change. A 2012 study by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers found that left-wing academics make no secret of discriminating against conservatives when it comes to job promotions and grant applications.

The standard rebuttal to this argument is that the left-wing views of college professors do not mean they’re biased. After all, it’s possible that the majority of academic staff are scrupulous about not letting their political views color their teaching. But while that might apply to the life sciences and, to a lesser extent, business studies, it’s unlikely to be the case outside those faculties. What people making this argument haven’t grasped is that most professors in the social sciences, humanities and the arts — not to mention the grievance studies departments that have started to metastasize in the past few years (cultural studies, gender studies, queer theory, critical race theory, whiteness studies, etc.) — don’t feel under a professional obligation to be politically neutral when it comes to teaching. On the contrary, they think it’s their responsibility to open their students’ eyes to injustice.

If I’m right about the cause of the leftwards shift among college graduates, don’t expect a correction any time soon. Robert Conquest’s second law of politics is that any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing — and it remains so in perpetuity.

Colleges should be ‘islands of excellence’

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Column for Spectator USA about the decline of liberal arts colleges and a new book defending universities as oases of free thought by a Yale professor. Published on 15th October 2019.

America’s colleges and universities are in crisis. According to the latest data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment is down 1.7 percent compared with 2018, following a drop of 1.8 percent the previous year. If you contrast 2019 with 2017, that’s more than half a million fewer students.

The brunt of this decline is being felt in New England, the center of America’s higher-education sector. In eastern Massachusetts, eight colleges have either closed or merged in the past four years, while in Vermont three colleges have gone to the wall in 2019 alone. Most experts think things will get a good deal worse. Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, predicts that up to 50 percent of the country’s colleges and universities will go bankrupt in the next 10 to 15 years.

The causes are multifactorial, as you’d expect. There are fewer 18-year-olds than there were a decade ago, thanks to declining birth rates. The cost of attending college has increased by nearly 400 percent in the past 30 years, while median household incomes have remained largely stagnant. The boost in earnings associated with a university degree — the ‘college premium’ — is declining. And the number of higher-ed institutions has grown too quickly.

An additional factor is surely the climate of Maoist intolerance that now prevails at most colleges and universities. I’m not just talking about ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘bias reporting hotlines’, all now standard features of American campus life, but the punishment beatings regularly meted out to anyone who dissents from progressive orthodoxy. Scarcely a month passes without some distinguished professor being targeted for defenestration by a left-wing outrage mob, often led by their Marxist colleagues.

To see the effect of these episodes on the bottom line, you have only to look at the declining enrollments at America’s most liberal institutions — an illustration of what is fast becoming an iron rule: go woke, go broke. Evergreen State College saw a 20 percent drop in applications last year, following the mobbing of Bret Weinstein, a biology professor who refused to go along with a ‘Day of Action’ in which white people were expected to absent themselves from campus to show ‘solidarity’ with students of color.

Some critics of the ideological tenor of American higher education have welcomed the economic difficulties facing the sector and urged Republican lawmakers to slash state aid to accelerate its decline. After all, why should taxpayers in red states subsidize what have effectively become left-wing madrassas? Last month, Mike J. Dunleavy, the Republican governor of Alaska, used his budget veto to reduce annual funding for the state’s universities from $327 million to $197 million, a cut of 41 percent.

Others believe the fight for the soul of colleges and universities is not yet lost, and urge academics to make a stand on behalf of viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom. One such is Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale and a former dean of Yale Law School. He’s just published a book called The Assault on American Excellence, in which he makes a passionate case in defense of elite educational institutions. This isn’t the standard argument citing the positive impact of the higher education sector on the economy (particularly scientific research), but a more intellectually ambitious one that relies on Alexis de Tocqueville.

Broadly speaking, Tocqueville was sympathetic to the democratic experiment unfolding in America in the mid-19th century. But he worried that some of the aristocratic virtues of Europe’s ancien régime would be lost. In particular, he was concerned about two unintended consequences of the egalitarian philosophy that underpins the principle of ‘one man, one vote’: that it would undermine the concept of human greatness, discouraging people from striving for excellence in the arts and sciences, and that it would leave the individual at the mercy of the tyranny of the majority.

According to Kronman, this is where America’s best colleges and universities come in. Like Tocqueville, he has no quarrel with the prevalence of the egalitarian ideal when it comes to politics and the law. But he regards institutions such as Yale as an essential counterweight to the excesses of democracy. In Kronman’s words, they are ‘islands of excellence in a democratic sea’.

What’s gone wrong in the Ivy League and the best state universities, Kronman argues, is that they’ve succumbed to ‘the passion for equality’. He distinguishes between the campus radicalism of the 1960s, which focused on the rigorous application of democratic ideals to politics and the law, and the ‘Social Justice’ movement of today, which seeks to extend that egalitarian spirit to higher education.

Curiously, I made many of the same Tocquevillian arguments in How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, my 2001 memoir about working as an editor at Vanity Fair, only the institution I was defending as a bulwark against the ‘effervescence of democratic negation’, to use Oliver Wendell Holmes’s phrase, was the fourth estate. As Kronman laments the spread of spirit-sapping egalitarianism to the academy, I regretted its corruption of the media, and contrasted the liberal pantywaists I encountered in New York in the mid-1990s with the bulldog-like newspapermen immortalized in films like His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night.

I will watch with interest what happens to Kronman at Yale this semester.

If his left-wing colleagues turn on him with the same ferocity they’ve directed at other dissenters, that will suggest his optimism is misplaced. It could well be too late to save the academy, just as it is too late to do anything about the debasement of the mainstream media.

Is this a turning point in the culture war?

Column for the Spectator about the award of $44 million in damages to the plaintiffs in the case of Gibson Bakery v Oberlin College. Published on 22nd June 2019.

Something rather wonderful happened last week for those of us who have been the victims of a public shaming — as I was at the beginning of 2018 when some people dug up some sophomoric tweets I’d sent ten years earlier. The jury delivered its verdict in a lawsuit that a bakery in Oberlin, Ohio had brought against the neighbouring liberal arts college for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and tortious interference. In brief, students and staff at Oberlin College engaged in a long campaign to brand the local business as ‘racist’, inflicting a terrible toll on its reputation, and the jury sided with the plaintiffs.

The story begins on 9 November 2016 when three students entered Gibson’s Bakery, a shop that’s been serving the town since 1885, and tried to purchase two bottles of wine using a fake ID. When the clerk refused to sell to them, they tried to leave with the wine but he ran after them and ended up being assaulted until the police arrived and arrested them. Nothing particularly unusual about that, unfortunately. Between 2011 and 2016, 40 people were arrested for shoplifting from Gibson’s Bakery. But the three perpetrators on this occasion were black and the following day hundreds of students protested outside. The Dean of Students and other college officials brought the protesters pizza and helped them hand out leaflets saying, ‘Don’t Buy. This is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination’.

That wasn’t true. Of the 40 shoplifters arrested in the previous five years, 32 were white. A black employee of Gibson’s told a local newspaper that racial profiling had nothing to do with it. ‘If you’re caught shoplifting, you’re going to end up getting arrested,’ he said. ‘When you steal from the store, it doesn’t matter what colour you are. You can be purple, blue, green; if you steal, you get caught, you get arrested.’ Even the three students agreed. When they eventually pleaded guilty a year later, they each signed a statement saying they believed the actions ‘were not racially motivated’.

In spite of no evidence of racism, the students continued to protest and demanded the college sever relations with the bakery, which it duly did, cancelling a longstanding contract whereby it supplied food to the refectory. As a result, three generations of the Gibson family had to stop paying themselves and most of their employees were laid off. The college’s administrators behaved in this way in spite of knowing the allegations were false — an email from a woman in the communications department to her bosses said that all the black people she’d spoken to in the town were ‘disgusted and embarrassed’ by the protest. ‘To them this is not a race issue at all and they do not believe the Gibsons are racist,’ she wrote.

The Gibson family decided to sue and, not surprisingly, the jury of local townsfolk sided with the bakery. In a glorious rejoinder to the po-faced activists at Oberlin College, they awarded the plaintiffs $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages. In America, conservatives have hailed this as a turning point in the culture war, putting social justice warriors on notice that trying to destroy people’s reputations by labelling them ‘racists’ — or ‘misogynists’ or ‘homophobes’ — could cost them dear. That is probably over-stating the effect of this case, particularly as Oberlin College may appeal, but there are a number of other lawsuits wending their way through the American courts and if they end in the same way it really might have an impact.

For instance, Nick Sandmann, the Catholic high school student who was vilified by the media in January after a video of him supposedly ‘smirking’ at a Native American protester went viral, is suing the Washington Post for $250 million, NBC for $275 million and CNN for $275 million. In another case, an author called Natasha Tynes is suing her publisher for $13 million after it cancelled her book contract because she was branded ‘racist’ on social media for tweeting a photograph of a black employee of Washington DC Metro breaking the transportation company’s rules by eating on a train.

Could the same tactics work in Britain? I’ve been encouraging Noah Carl, the academic fired by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge after being falsely accused of ‘racism’ by student protesters, to go to law. If he ends up launching a crowdfunding campaign to pay his costs I will do everything in my power to help.

Roger Scruton is right to highlight political bias in universities – here’s what we can do about it

Blog post for the Telegraph about how to buttress free speech at Britain’s universities. It was published on 16th May 2019.

Last week I went to an academic conference at Oxford to discuss how best to protect free speech on campus. It was hosted by Nigel Biggar, the theology professor who was targeted by an outrage mob 18 months ago for daring to suggest the British Empire wasn’t “an unbroken litany of oppression, exploitation and self-deception”, and was attended by several academics who’ve lost their jobs for expressing unorthodox views. One of these was Dr Noah Carl, the young conservative scholar who had his fellowship terminated by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge last month at the behest of left-wing protestors.

Everyone at the conference agreed that intellectual intolerance at universities across the Anglosphere is a growing problem. In 2019 alone, we’ve seen numerous campaigns launched by defenders of “Social Justice” to defenestrate academics who challenge progressive orthodoxy. For instance, at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia a group of students have demanded that the outspoken feminist critic Camille Paglia be replaced by a “queer person of colour”, while at Sarah Lawrence College in New York a group calling itself the “Diaspora Coalition” has accused Samuel Abrams, a politics professor, of “anti-Blackness, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-woman bigotry” because he wrote an article for the New York Times calling attention to the left-wing bias among university administrators. An employee at Smith College was suspended recently for retweeting a pro-Trump tweet.

Various solutions were discussed, but none as radical as that put forward by Roger Scruton at an event in London earlier this week. He suggested that the state should simply stop funding university humanities departments, so if a student wants to take a three-year course in, say, “Whiteness and White Privilege”, they would be expected to pay the full cost of tuition, rather than only half the cost, with the government picking up the other half. He predicted that humanities departments would quickly be wound up, given the poor labour market value of most of the degrees on offer.

Scruton is certainly right to highlight the rampant political bias in the humanities. A 2018 study of top universities in the US found that the ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans in History is 17.4 to 1; in English it’s 48.3 to 1 and in Theology it’s 70 to 1. We don’t have similar data about the skew in the humanities in British universities, but a voting intention poll for the Times Higher Education supplement in 2015 found that 46 per cent of academics said they intended to vote Labour, 22 per cent Green, 11 per cent Conservative and only 0.4 per cent Ukip. Worth bearing in mind that Ukip polled 12.6 per cent of the popular vote in the 2015 General Election and 27.5 per cent in the previous year’s European Parliament election. No doubt support for the Brexit Party in Britain’s universities is at about the same level.

But have things reached such a pass that Scruton’s solution is the only viable one? At the Oxford conference, we discussed a less draconian alternative which would be to persuade graduates to stop donating to their alma mater unless they pledge to uphold free speech. Professor Biggar, who spoke out against a student campaign to topple a statue of Cecil Rhodes in 2015, pointed out that Oriel College, where the statue is located, had quickly changed its mind about giving in to the protesters’ demands when some deep-pocketed donors threatened to withdraw their checkbooks.

However, Amy Wax, a professor at Pennsylvania Law School who was mobbed two years ago for writing an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer in defense of “bourgeois culture” and relieved of some of her teaching responsibilities as a result, said she didn’t think that would work. Most rich men, she pointed out, would be reluctant to sign up to a campaign to defend free speech on campus for fear of being smeared as “alt-Right” – a standard tactic of the Social Justice Left – and even if they proved willing, their ultra-liberal wives, terrified of jeopardising their status as “allies” of the oppressed, would soon put them straight.

But there is one other option. A few weeks ago, the historian Niall Fergusson suggested that academics with unorthodox views should form the intellectual equivalent of Nato, and pledge to defend one another. Reading between the lines, I think he was advising his fellow conservative intellectuals to unionize. That would be ironic, to be sure, but an academic trade union committed to protecting its members from spineless university administrators and willing to pay for top flight employment lawyers, as well as PR advice, could be the best solution.

The Diversocrats take Harvard

Blog post for the Spectator USA about Harvard’s defenestration of law professor Ronald Sullivan following his decision to join Harvey Weinstein’s defence team. It was published on 13th May 2019.

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The failure of Western universities to stand up for free speech is now so commonplace it’s difficult to feel much outrage when another dissenting professor is tossed to the wolves. But on this occasion the university in question is so distinguished we really ought to sit up and take note. And for once, I don’t mean Cambridge. The vice-chancellor of Cambridge has done so much to destroy its global reputation in the last few months – what with the defenestration of Jordan Peterson and Noah Carl, and the decision to investigate the university’s links with the slave trade – that he has allowed himself a few days off. No, the university that has disgraced itself this week is Harvard. That’s right, Harvard, which has topped the Times Higher Education supplement’s World Reputation Rankings since 2011.

The story begins last January when the African-American Law School Professor Ronald Sullivan joined Harvey Weinstein’s defence team. Now, it isn’t unusual for Professor Sullivan to represent unpopular clients. In the past, he has represented Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots player accused of a double murder, and the family of Usaamah Rahim, a man accused of being a terrorist who was shot by the Boston Police. But his decision to represent the man at the centre of the #MeToo scandal proved too much for some radical students, who began organising protests in Harvard Square. The chant heard most often at these rallies is ‘Believe Survivors’, the same phrase that activists used when campaigning against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. The implication is that the presumption of innocence should not be extended to men accused of rape or sexual assault.

On the face of it, you wouldn’t expect the Harvard authorities to take such protests seriously. After all, Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, defended a man accused of rape. The presumption of innocence is one of the fundamental principles of American jurisprudence and it would be odd if America’s most prestigious university capitulated to a student mob that wanted to set it aside. Indeed, Sullivan himself reminded his detractors of its importance in a public email:

Every citizen charged with a crime is cloaked with the presumption of innocence. It is particularly important for this category of unpopular defendant to receive the same process as everyone else – perhaps even more important. To the degree we deny unpopular defendants basic due process rights we cease to be the country we imagine ourselves to be.

But Sullivan’s critics, perhaps realising they weren’t going to get very far arguing that Harvey Weinstein wasn’t entitled to due process, focused instead on trying to get him removed as a dean of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate dorms, where he has served for ten years. This position, which Sullivan shares with his wife Stephanie Robinson, a law lecturer at Harvard, is a pastoral one and, as such, gives him some responsibility for students’ mental health and well-being. This, then, was his Achilles Heel.

A change.org petition began circulating, demanding Sullivan step down as dean, arguing that his decision to represent Weinstein meant he couldn’t adequately discharge his responsibilities as a mentor and counsellor. This was expressed in various ways, all depressingly familiar to anyone who follows these academic witch-hunts. Because Sullivan is defending someone accused of rape and sexual assault, he cannot possibly make the students feel ‘welcomed’ and ‘supported’, far less ‘encouraged to raise their voices against any form of discrimination’. His ‘role as a community leader’ means ‘the safety of the students’ should ‘always come first’. His involvement in Weinstein’s case is ‘not only upsetting, but deeply trauma-inducing’ for ‘victims of sexual assault and rape’ at Harvard. The presence of Sullivan at Winthrop House ‘induces a great amount of fear and hurt in victims of the crimes Weinstein is accused of’. Etc, etc.

Similar arguments were used last year by campus activists calling for the sacking of James Moore, a University of Southern California professor who sent an email to students expressing his support for due process in the Harvey Weinstein case and questioning the ‘believe the victim’ approach. Two student leaders accused him of damaging the mental health of sexual assault survivors. ‘Professor James Moore has created a hostile environment in which many survivors of sexual assault do not feel safe,’ they wrote.

More recently, a group of left-wing students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia started a change.org petition to have Camille Paglia fired as a professor and replaced by ‘a queer person of colour’ because she, too, expressed some scepticism about the #MeToo movement. According to the petition, such sentiments put her students ‘in danger’.

There are so many things wrong with this line of attack it’s hard to know where to begin. For one thing, there’s scant evidence that hearing professors or deans standing up for due process in rape or sexual assault cases induces ‘trauma’ in their students who’ve been the victims of such crimes, or that it makes them feel ‘unsafe’ – and, incidentally, the number of students who fall into this category is tiny.

One of the most authoritative studies carried out in the U.S., using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that between 1995 and 2013 the incidence of rape among female college students was 1.4 per 1,000. (If you include sexual assault, it rises to 6.1 per 1,000.) The change.org petition calling for Sullivan’s scalp claimed that ‘sexual assault and rape on campus…has now reached new, unparalleled heights’. In fact, rapes and sexual assaults of female college students in the US fell by more than 50 per cent between 1997 and 2013 and in the same period the rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents than for students.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any victims of such crimes among Winthrop House’s 400 or so residents, but there’s no reason why Sullivan’s joining Weinstein’s defense team should be ‘trauma-inducing’ for them. After all, acting for Weinstein isn’t tantamount to expressing skepticism about the veracity of their stories, or, indeed, the truthfulness of Weinstein’s accusers. Far less is it an expression of sympathy for Weinstein or other powerful men accused of sex crimes. As Sullivan has said in his own defense, everyone is entitled to due process, including the most reviled. He is not in any sense ‘siding’ with Weinstein. Rather, he is just affirming his conviction that civil liberties and constitutional rights should be extended to all U.S. citizens.

To date, the only half-decent argument that’s been made against Sullivan being able to combine these two roles is one put forward by the feminist intellectual Catharine MacKinnon, also a professor at Harvard Law. For her, the issue turns on whether ‘sexually abused students can feel comfortable confiding in’ a dean who’s representing ‘a credibly accused multiple perpetrator of sexual assault’. She doesn’t categorically say they can’t, but she thinks it’s ‘an equality question’ for him and Harvard to consider.

The rebuttal to this was set out by yet another Harvard Law School professor – Randall Kennedy, although he wasn’t specifically addressing MacKinnon’s point. In a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, he wrote:

The skills, capacities, and dispositions that help to make a person a valued defense counsel are also the skills, capacities, and dispositions that help to make a person a valued faculty dean. These features include poise, close listening, mastery of relevant information, and a willingness and ability to safeguard the rights of all sorts of people, including outsiders, the ostracized and, indeed, the villainous… The opportunity for students to have as their mentor, counselor, and friend a person with that range of experiences and skills is extraordinary. It should not be squandered.

However, just in case there is a risk that a ‘sexually abused student’ may not feel comfortable confiding in him, Sullivan has identified another member of the Winthrop House team as someone students can talk to if they want to report a sexual assault.

You would have thought this would be enough to satisfy the Harvard authorities, but to safeguard Sullivan’s job some 52 members of the Harvard Law faculty wrote a letter to the Boston Globe, urging the University not to act on student calls for his dismissal. ‘We view any pressure by Harvard’s administration for him to resign as faculty dean of Winthrop, because of his representation or speaking on behalf of clients, as inconsistent with the University’s commitment to the freedom to defend ideas, however unpopular,’ they wrote.

But the Dean of Harvard College, a sociology professor named Rakesh Khurana, said after a meeting with Sullivan that he took ‘seriously’ the concerns expressed by the activists and said ‘more work must be done to uphold our commitment to the well-being of our students’. Those were no empty words, either. A few days later, he announced Harvard would carry out a ‘climate review’ of Winthrop House, an example of bureaucratic gobbledygook that didn’t bode well for Professor Sullivan. As he pointed out in the New York Times: ‘Never in the history of the faculty dean position has the dean been subjected to a “climate review” in the middle of some controversy.’

Sure enough, Khurana announced the outcome of the review on Saturday: Sullivan and his wife’s employment as faculty deans of Winthrop House would end on June 30th.

‘Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college,’ he wrote in an email to students and staff at Winthrop. ‘The concerns expressed have been serious and numerous.’

As someone who spent a year at Harvard as a Fulbright scholar and enjoyed being exposed to a wide range of different political perspectives, I’m deeply disappointed by this decision. Other, lesser universities have invoked the ‘hostile environment’ or ‘climate’ argument to justify punishing professors who’ve been targeted by Social Justice outrage mobs, but it has generally been dismissed by anyone who cares about intellectual freedom. Why? Because if you accept that certain points of view or positions should be prohibited because they might upset students or make them feel ‘unsafe’, you are effectively saying that free speech is less important than protecting students’ feelings. That’s particularly pernicious if there’s no ‘reasonable person’ standard, so all that matters are the subjective feelings of students, as reported by politically-motived activists to college administrators.

Now that an institution with the reputation of Harvard has accepted this principle it will make it harder for defenders of intellectual freedom at other, less prestigious institutions to stand up to the campus diversocrats. ‘Look,’ they’ll be able to say. ‘Harvard got rid of Ronald Sullivan as a dean for creating a hostile environment. If it’s good enough for Harvard, it’s good enough for us.’

Luckily, not all college administrators are as spineless as Rakesh Khurana. In response to the calls to fire Camille Paglia, the President of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, David Yager, demonstrated real moral leadership. I will leave you with his inspiring words:

Unfortunately, as a society we are living at a time of sharp divisions – of opinions, perspectives and beliefs – and that has led to decreased civility, increased anger and a ‘new normal’ of offence given and taken. Across our nation it is all too common that opinions expressed that differ from another’s – especially those that are controversial – can spark passion and even outrage, often resulting in calls to suppress that speech.

That simply cannot be allowed to happen. I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of their ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. That open interchange of opinions and beliefs includes all members of the UArtscommunity: faculty, students and staff, in and out of the classroom. We are dedicated to fostering a climate which is conducive to respectful intellectual debate that empowers and equips our students to meet the challenges they will face in their futures.

Noah Carl’s only crime is being a Conservative

Blog post for the Spectator on the shameful decision by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, to fire Noah Carl. It was published on 1st May 2019.

I was disappointed to learn that St Edmund’s College, Cambridge has decided to capitulate to a mob of woke student activists and terminate the fellowship of Dr Noah Carl, a social scientist. This follows two investigations carried out by St Edmund’s, one into the process that led to Carl’s appointment, the other into a series of allegations made by left-wing students. The students repeated the charges set out in an ‘open letter’ to the college last December signed by over 200 academics – some of them in fields like ‘gender studies’ and ‘critical race studies’ – in which Carl was accused of producing work that is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed’.

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Noah Carl’s crime, in case you haven’t guessed, is being a conservative. Academics who are right-of-centre are becoming increasingly rare, as Carl himself documented in a report for the Adam Smith Institute in 2017. He found that less than 12 per cent of academics employed by British universities vote for right-wing or conservative parties, falling to less than ten per cent in the social sciences and less than five per cent in the humanities and arts. The authors of the ‘open letter’ claimed Carl was guilty of ‘racist pseudoscience’ for making links between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’, but failed to provide any evidence to substantiate these allegations. A counter-petition defending the young scholar, endorsed by such eminent professors as Peter Singer, Jonathan Haidt and Cass Sunstein, attracted over 1,200 signatures.

I looked into the charges last December when I wrote about the ‘open letter’ for the Spectator, but couldn’t find any papers or articles written by Carl in which he’d made any such links. All I could find was an essay in a periodical called Evolutionary Psychological Science in which he had defended the right of scholars to carry out research into taboo topics like race, genes and IQ, but there were no examples of him actually doing that. The closest he’s come was a 2016 paper entitled ‘Net opposition to immigrants of different nationalities correlates strongly with their arrest rates in the UK’ in which he references IQ, but makes no mention of biology. And the reason he brings up IQ in that article is because he discusses a YouGov poll in which respondents were asked to rank 14 characteristics in order of importance when considering whether or not an economic migrant should be allowed into the UK and IQ is one of those characteristics.

What the charges against Dr Carl boil down to is that he has made findings that are at odds with sacred Left-wing beliefs, such as thinking uncontrolled immigration is an unqualified good; so, like the 17.4 million people who voted Leave in 2016, he must be ‘far Right’.

The master of St Edmund’s College, Matthew Bullock, posted a statement on the college website last night detailing the outcome of the investigations. The first investigation – into the appointments process – concluded that everything was above board. In deciding which of the applicants to award the research fellowship to, the college based its decision on the examples of Dr Carl’s work submitted by him, as well as the PhD he was awarded by Oxford. ‘The separate matters giving rise to the concerns about Dr Carl only came to light after the recruitment process was concluded,’ wrote the Master.

The second investigation concerned those ‘separate matters’, i.e. other papers and articles written by Dr Carl, and decided these ‘did not comply with established criteria for research ethics and integrity’. What this work was and what criteria it failed to comply with isn’t revealed in the Master’s statement. Dr Carl’s other sin, according to this second group of investigators, was to have collaborated with ‘a number of individuals who were known to hold extremist views’. Again, no details are provided.

These look awfully like trumped-up charges. Why is Noah Carl’s other work – work done before he took up his fellowship at St Edmund’s and which wasn’t the basis on which he was awarded the fellowship – relevant in considering whether he should keep his job? And does the college apply the same test to other fellows or just those who are right-of-centre? More importantly, how does the college define ‘extremist views’?

One of the signatories of the ‘open letter’ was Dr Priyamvada Gopal, an outspoken supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who said a project on empire by Nigel Biggar, an Oxford professor, had ‘white supremacist underpinnings’ (he also wrote an article for the Times calling for a balanced reappraisal of Britain’s colonial past). She also accused Professor Mary Beard of ‘casual racism’. By any definition, these are ‘extremist views’, yet the St Edmund’s fellow who signed the letter wasn’t reprimanded for collaborating with Dr Gopal.

Needless to say, Matthew Bullock’s statement contains a grovelling apology to the students who demanded Carl’s head. ‘I apologise unreservedly for the hurt and offence,’ he writes. ‘Diversity and inclusivity are fundamental values of the College and we abhor racism and religious hatred.’ As usual, it’s not enough to give in to the mob’s demands; you must also prostrate yourself at their feet and plead for their forgiveness. God forbid a figure in authority should fail to comply with the diktats of the equality, diversity and inclusion zealots. Like his counterparts at other Cambridge colleges, the Master of St Edmund’s values every type of diversity except the one that matters most at a seat of learning – viewpoint diversity. To paraphrase the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, ‘diversity’ means a roomful of people who look different but all think the same.

I’m afraid this is yet another nail in the coffin of my alma mater. What was once a protected space for great free thinkers like Erasmus, Darwin and Keynes is now a citadel of politically correct conformity. We saw this in March when the Divinity Faculty decided to rescind its offer of a visiting fellowship to Jordan Peterson on the grounds that he’d been photographed standing next to a man wearing an ‘Islamophobic’ T-shirt, and we saw it again this week when Cambridge announced it was going to carry out an investigation into the university’s historical links with slavery. What’s next, I wonder? Renaming Churchill College on the grounds that Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister was a ‘war criminal’?

If anyone reading this is a Cambridge alumnus thinking of making a donation, please think again. All Cantabrigians who value freedom of speech should withhold their support until the university rediscovers its original purpose.

Jordan Peterson and mob rule at the University of Cambridge

Column I wrote for the Spectator about Cambridge University’s decision to rescind its offer of a Visiting Fellowship to Jordan Peterson. It was published on 30th March 2019.

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On Monday, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge university, Stephen Toope, issued a statement defending the decision of the divinity faculty to rescind its offer of a visiting fellowship to Jordan Peterson. The world-famous professor had been invited by the faculty to give a series of lectures on the Bible later this year, but was dis-invited after some academics and students objected.

Not that the faculty had the courtesy to inform Peterson of this, mind you. He learned about it through the grapevine and then saw it on Twitter. He was left to work out what had prompted the volte-face by reading the various statements given to the media. For instance, a spokesman for the university told the Guardian that Cambridge ‘is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles’. What these ‘principles’ are is anyone’s guess, but presumably they do not include free speech.

We now know a bit more about what went on behind the scenes, thanks to Toope’s statement. It was all to do with a slogan on a T-shirt, apparently. Five hundred years ago, biblical scholars at Cambridge poured over Erasmus’s translation of the New Testament into Latin; today, it’s a T-shirt slogan. And the offending item of clothing wasn’t even worn by Peterson. No, his sin was to be photographed at a public-speaking engagement next to someone in a T-shirt that read ‘I’m a proud Islamophobe.’ According to the vice-chancellor, ‘The casual endorsement by association of this message was thought to be antithetical to the work of a Faculty that prides itself in the advancement of interfaith understanding.’

The words ‘casual endorsement by association’ are doing quite a lot of work here. At Peterson’s public lectures, a VIP ticket entitles you to be photographed with him and, typically, hundreds are sold. One of the rules is that you’re not supposed to stop and chat to Peterson while having your photo taken, because if everyone did the people at the back of the queue would be waiting for hours. So he has only a few seconds with each person — they appear, he puts his arm round them, the photo is taken and then it’s on to the next one. Not enough time to scrutinise what’s written on their T-shirts, let alone cross-examine them about their political views. So the fact that Peterson was photographed next to this ‘proud Islamophobe’ does not constitute an ‘endorsement’ of such views, ‘casual’ or otherwise.

To put this in perspective, I once persuaded Jeremy Corbyn to pose next to me in the green room of The Andrew Marr Show. To date, no one on the left has suggested Corbyn isn’t fit for office because he was once photographed next to a Tory.

Several Cambridge dons have been in touch to express their dismay at this craven capitulation to the mob. One sent me a string of pictures of Toope ‘casually endorsing’ the political views of a variety of people who haven’t done much to advance the cause of multiculturalism, including the Chinese diplomat who compared the people of Japan to Voldemort. And this was an official portrait by an embassy photographer, so he doesn’t have Peterson’s excuse that it was the 100th person he posed with that day.

These dons were at pains to convey that only a minority of faculty staff and students have embraced left-wing identity politics and most would have welcomed Peterson. They pointed out that last November he played to packed houses at the Corn Exchange and Cambridge Union. ‘I know that many of the students were over the moon at the thought of an academic rock star of his calibre spending a couple of months with us,’ wrote an anonymous correspondent.

It’s all so depressing. Say what you like about Donald Trump, but at least he’s taken a stand against this kind of virtue-signalling censorship. Last week, he issued Executive Order 13865, which is intended to address the free speech crisis at American universities. Henceforth, if a university fails to protect free speech, the federal government can withhold millions of dollars in research funding. That’s speaking to them in a language they understand.

The new English universities regulator, on which I briefly served last year, is supposed to defend intellectual freedom on campus and has similar levers at its disposal, but so far it’s been pretty toothless. And to think, this assault on our cherished freedoms is occurring under a Tory government! Imagine how much worse it would be if Labour ever gets re-elected.

Free speech is officially dead in British universities

Column I wrote for the Spectator about the Journal of Controversial Ideas and why it’s necessary. It was published on 17th November 2018.

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When I first read about plans for a new academic periodical called the Journal of Controversial Ideas, I got the wrong end of the stick. Fantastic news, I thought, particularly when I saw the distinguished group of intellectuals behind it. They include Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford; Peter Singer, the well-known Australian philosopher; and Francesca Minerva, a bio-ethicist at the University of Ghent. An authoritative magazine bearing the imprimatur of these distinguished free-thinkers is a great way to persuade other, less celebrated academics to stick their heads above the parapet and publish essays that dissent from groupthink.

Then I spotted an important detail: all the material will be published pseudonymously. That’s right — the contributors won’t use their own names. Far from a cause for hope, this is confirmation of my worst fears. The Maoist intolerance of anyone who dares to challenge the ‘woke’ orthodoxy has reached such a pitch that the only way to persuade non-conforming intellectuals to contribute to public debate is to guarantee they won’t be identified.

When I described universities as ‘left-wing madrassas’ in a Sunday paper earlier this year, I was accused of being alarmist by various higher education ‘experts’, including some conservatives. Sam Gyimah, a higher education minister, told vice-chancellors that, ‘Our best universities are not ivory towers. Still less are they “left-wing madrassas”, as one controversialist chose to describe them.’

I wish I had been exaggerating, but when eminent academics are forced to go to these lengths to protect colleagues from the career-ending consequences of expressing heterodox views, even the most sanguine observer has to admit there’s a problem.

‘I think all of us will be very happy if and when the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better,’ Professor McMahan told the BBC. ‘But right now in current conditions something like this is needed.’

McMahan was being interviewed for Monday’s Radio 4 documentary University Unchallenged, about the lack of viewpoint diversity in British higher education. Matthew Flinders, a politics professor, interviewed a cross-section of academics in the social sciences and humanities. They confirmed that there is a left-wing bias in their fields, but some queried whether that means other political views are suppressed. After all, hasn’t the academy always skewed left? Noah Carl, a research fellow at Cambridge who has studied this phenomenon, told Flinders that the imbalance has recently got a lot worse. Until about 15 years ago, left-of-centre academics outnumbered those on the right by two to one; at the last general election, it was more like seven to one.

Interestingly, Flinders had difficulty persuading any hard-left academics to talk to him and suspected an organised boycott — a rather self-defeating tactic if their object was to demonstrate how open-minded they are. However, he did manage to find one willing to go on the record: an historian at King’s College London called Jon Wilson. ‘Behind this issue there’s a right-wing agenda,’ Wilson said, explaining why his left-wing colleagues didn’t want to be interviewed. ‘What people who complain about the lack of viewpoint diversity mean is that their conservative views are no longer dominant.’

A tad implausible you might think, given that conservatives haven’t been dominant on campus for at least 75 years. But Flinders then revealed that Wilson was a leader of the outrage mob that went after Oxford historian Nigel Biggar last year for calling for a measured reappraisal of our colonial past. Any suggestion that the empire was not an unalloyed evil is heresy among ‘woke’ historians and Wilson helped to organise a letter-writing campaign that saw Biggar condemned by more than 170 other academics. Listening to Wilson deny that the left tries to stifle intellectual debate reminded me of a communist apologist from the Cold-War era claiming the Soviet Union was the most democratic country in the world.

Flinders concluded by saying that he found the idea of a new academic journal where dissenters like Nigel Biggar can publish articles under pseudonyms rather depressing, and it’s hard to disagree. Still, at least it will make it impossible to deny that free speech is under threat in Britain’s universities.

The Neo-Marxist Takeover of Our Universities

Column for the Spectator about the increasing left-wing bias in British and American universities. It was published on 8th September 2018.

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According to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, America’s universities have succumbed to ‘safetyism’, whereby students are protected from anything that might cause them anxiety or discomfort. In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, published this week, they attribute the spread of ‘trigger warnings’, ‘safe spaces’ and ‘bias hotlines’ on campus to a misplaced concern about the psychological fragility of students. In their view, millennials aren’t ‘snowflakes’, but imagine themselves to be on account of having been surrounded by over-protective parents and teachers. The fact they are the first generation of ‘digital natives’ hasn’t helped, since it has left them marooned in echo chambers, unaccustomed to challenge. In addition, students’ familiarity with social media and their ability to whip up outrage mobs to shame university authorities into doing their bidding has shifted the balance of power in their favour.

No doubt there is some truth in this, and from a tactical point of view it may be the most sensible way of getting university authorities and students to engage in a dialogue about free speech. It enables Lukianoff and Haidt to draw on a wealth of research showing that the suppression of dissenting views is, in fact, bad for students’ psychological wellbeing. That’s more pragmatic than complaining about left-wing bias or a culture of political correctness, which is likely to result in the authors being dismissed as ‘alt-right’ or, worse, ‘white supremacists’. By focusing on mental health — a big concern of millennials — they will at least get a hearing.

But reading between the lines, it’s clear that the real problem on college campuses is not the whiny, neurotic students, but the post-modern neo-Marxist professors who are manipulating them. After all, the people being no-platformed are not disciples of crackpot post-structuralists like Jacques Lacan, whose psychoanalytical theories about castration are weird enough to disturb even the most robust students, but mainstream conservatives such as Heather Mac Donald and Ben Shapiro.

The domination of US universities by the left, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, is well documented. In 2016 a survey carried out by Econ Journal Watch looked at the voter registration of faculty members at 40 leading US universities in the fields of economics, history, law, psychology and journalism/communications. It found that Democrats outnumber Republicans by an average of 11.5 to one. In psychology, the ratio is 17.4 to one; in history, 33.5 to one.

This helps explain a phenomenon identified by the French economist Thomas Piketty whereby university graduates have drifted to the left over the past 50 years. In a paper last February, he analysed post-electoral surveys from 1948 to 2017 and found that, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the more educated voters were, the more likely they were to vote Republican. Today, the opposite is true, with 70 per cent of those with a master’s degree voting for Hillary in 2016.

This phenomenon has coincided with the growth in the number of Americans attending university. In 1948, just 6 per cent of voters had a university degree; by 2016, 13 per cent had a master’s degree or a PhD. Piketty also looked at British and French election data and found the same developments there: a drift to the left among university graduates that went hand-in-hand with a large increase in the percentage of the population obtaining degrees. ‘The trend is virtually identical in the three countries,’ he wrote.

If more people are going to university in Britain, France and America, and graduates are more likely to vote for left-wing parties, why have right-wing parties continued to win elections in those countries? The answer is simple: Piketty discovered that voters without university degrees have moved in the opposite direction. They used to skew to the left, but now skew to the right. To a lesser extent, the same pattern is discernible among high-income and low-income voters, with the two groups switching their political allegiances over the past 50 years — something that Piketty, a socialist who believes in redistributive taxation, finds baffling.

My take is we owe the survival of western capitalism, and the fact we haven’t been bamboozled by socialist snake-oil salesmen, to the innate good sense of the ordinary working man. As Bertrand Russell said: ‘Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.’

It’s no wonder degrees are going out of fashion when universities have become the Madrassas of the Left

Op ed for the Mail on Sunday, linking falling interest in university places to the rise of political extremism on campus. A slightly different version was published on 19th August 2018.

For 18-year-olds hoping to get into university, the wait for A-level results wasn’t quite as nerve-racking this year as it has been for earlier generations. Applications are down compared to 2017 and even Britain’s most prestigious universities – the elite Russel Group – had 4,300 unfilled places earlier this week.

As a result, even those falling well short of their conditional offers are celebrating. One school-leaver tweeted that she had been offered a place to study geography at Queen Mary, a Russell Group university in London, despite “missing out on my grades by so much”.

Another tweeted: “So I missed my grades. As stressful as today has been, I’ve still been lucky enough to be offered my course at four amazing universities.”

University panjandrums have dismissed the fall in applications this year as nothing to worry about, blithely ascribing it to the declining numbers of 18-year-olds.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “This small drop in applicant figures can be attributed largely to the fall in the number of 18-year-olds across the UK population.”

But is everything in the garden as rosy as Jarvis and his colleagues would have us believe?

While it’s true that the number of 18-year-olds in Britain fell by 2.5% this year, universities have also seen big declines in the number of older students applying. Last year, there was a 15% drop among 21-24 year-olds and a 23% drop for those aged 25 and over.

And a poll this week suggests universities will struggle to fill places in future. The Sutton Trust has been tracking attitudes to university among 11-16 year-olds since 2003 and its latest findings are bad news for the higher education sector.

The number of respondents saying they are “very likely” to attend college has declined from 49% in 2009 to just 32% today.

Critics of the Government will attribute these figures to the trebling of student tuition fees in 2012 and that is undoubtedly a factor. But is it the only reason? After all, university applications actually increased in 2016, four years after that decision.

Another reason a university place is beginning to lose its lustre is because of the increasing difficulty graduates have of finding suitable employment.

A recent survey found that more than half of university graduates don’t use their degree in their current job. By contrast, the number of vacancies in skilled professions is at an all-time high and projected to increase after we leave the EU and can no longer rely on importing skilled labour.

I have just written a report about how to boost the status of technical and vocational education for the Centre for Policy Studies and, in the course of doing my research, I stumbled across some alarming statistics.

British school leavers are much more likely to shun skilled occupations than their European counterparts. Only 36% of the UK population have sub-degree qualifications in skilled occupations – like plumber or electrician – compared to an OECD average of 44% and over 60% in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

The result, according to the Commission for Employment and Skills, is that there are going to be 3.6 million additional vacancies in skilled occupations by 2022.

Perhaps that is why it has begun to dawn on school leavers that a university place is not the only route to a decent job.

Why spend three years doing Media Studies at the Manchester Metropolitan University when you could get a better paid job after doing a Level 3 qualification at an FE College or a high-level apprenticeship, except without the £50,000 debt?

But could there by another reason why applications are falling?

It’s no secret that the overwhelming majority of British academics are left-of-centre. According to a voting intention survey carried out by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2015, 46% of British university employees said they intended to vote Labour, 22% said Green, 11% said the Conservatives, 9% said the Lib Dems, 6% said the SNP a

Only a vanishingly small 0.4% said they intended to vote for UKIP – and it’s worth bearing in mind that UKIP polled 12.6% of the popular vote in the 2015 General Election.

The dominance of the left in university departments – particularly in the arts and humanities, where the number of Conservative supporters falls to five per cent – mean that students who don’t subscribe to hardline progressive orthodoxy feel increasingly isolated.

We’ve seen this with the numerous stories of undergraduates who voted Brexit being abused on campus. Last year, a third-year law student told Radio 4’s Today programme: “When I have told people that I voted Leave they blame me. “They say, ‘Oh, you’ve ruined the whole country now, you’re going to regret this in a few years.’”

Another example was the violent protest against Jacob Rees-Moog last February when he attempted to give a speech at the University of West England. He is one of several right-of-centre speakers who’ve been “no platformed” by “anti-fascist” student mobs in the last 12 months.

The rise of identity politics on Britain’s campuses, with enforced speech codes in so-called “safe spaces” prohibiting the expression of views likely to “trigger” minorities, has meant that white students – particularly white, “cishetero” males – have been made to feel increasingly guilty, as if they are somehow responsible for the evils of colonialism, slavery, racial inequality, and so on, simply by virtue of being white.

Last year, applications to British universities from 18-year-olds in most ethnic groups increased – but applications from 18-year-old whites fell by two per cent. And this year, 36,000 fewer men applied than women.

Perhaps that’s not surprising. If you’re a white, “cishetero” male, why would you run up huge debts to spend three years being abused by students and professors for being an evil oppressor?

In America, liberal-arts colleges have seen a steady decline in enrollment over the past decade as they have acquired a reputation for white-bashing and anti-free speech protests – and the more liberal the university, the greater the fall in student numbers.

Evergreen State College, for instance, has seen a 20% drop in applications, forcing it to cut its annual budget by $6 million. The reason? It hit the headlines last year when biology professor Bret Weinstein refused to go along with a ‘Day of Action’ in which white people were expected to absent themselves from campus to show ‘solidarity’ with oppressed black students.

As a result, Weinstein was mobbed by angry protestors and forced off campus by baseball-bat wielding “anti-fascists”.

In a move which astonished even his liberal colleagues, Evergreen President Arthur Bridges praised these thugs for their “courage” and expressed his “gratitude” for the useful lesson they’d taught him. Meanwhile, Weinstein resigned and successfully sued the college for $500,000.

Another ultra-liberal wing American college which has been plunged into crisis by its reputation for refusing to tolerate any dissent from progressive dogma is the University of Missouri.

Mizzou, as it’s known, attracted unwelcome publicity in 2015 when a left-wing communications professor and campus activist was caught on camera during an “anti-racism” protest asking for “some muscle” to remove a journalist who was asking awkward questions.

In the three years since, Mizzou has seen applications plummet by more than 35%, forcing the university to close seven halls of residence and lay off 400 members of staff.

A local student called Tyler Morris told the New York Times he’d decided not to apply because he didn’t want to be stigmatized for being white. “I didn’t want to be that person who I guess was stereotyped because I was white,” he said.

One of the reasons Tony Blair oversaw a massive increase in the number of university places was in the hope of creating a permanent Labour majority, knowing that most students would come under intense pressure to toe the progressive line.

It would be ironic indeed if the dominance of Britain’s universities by social justice warriors ended up decimating the left-wing madrassas that Labour has done so much to build up.

Links

How King’s College London has become Cancel College by Thomas Less and Clayton Couts, The Critic, 1st July 2020

Camille Paglia Can’t Say That by Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, 1st May 2019

How the woke inquisition broke Cambridge by Eric Kaufmann, UnHerd, 1st May 2019

Almost a Third of Graduates ‘Overeducated’ for their Job, BBC News, 29th April 2019

The Devils of Evergreen State College, YouTube, 28th April 2019

Scientific Journal Snubs Academic Over Sleeping Beauty Metaphor by Daniel Boffey, The Guardian, 26th April 2019

Drawing the Line, At Last by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, 22nd April 2019

Is this Common Language? by Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal, 22nd April 2019

What They Don’t Teach You at the University of Washington’s Ed School by Nick Wilson, Quillette, 5th April 2019

Re-education Campus by John Tierney, City Journal, Summer 2018

Homogeneous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty‘ by Mitchell Langbert, National Association of Scholars, Academic Questions, 24th April 2018

How identity politics is harming the sciences‘ by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, Spring 2018

Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)‘, T. Piketty, World Inequality Database, March 2018

Welcome to campus! Here’s your speech code by Zach Goldberg, Washington Times, 25th October, 2017

Abstract

Using post-electoral surveys from France, Britain and the US, this paper documents a striking long-run evolution in the structure of political cleavages. In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for left-wing (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters. It has gradually become associated with higher education voters, giving rise to a “multiple-elite” party system in the 2000s-2010s: high-education elites now vote for the “left”, while high- income/high-wealth elites still vote for the “right” (though less and less so). I argue that this can contribute to explain rising inequality and the lack of democratic response to it, as well as the rise of “populism”. I also discuss the origins of this evolution (rise of globalization/migration cleavage, and/or educational expansion per se) as well as future prospects: “multiple-elite” stabilization; complete realignment of the party system along a “globalists” (high-education, high-income) vs “nativists” (low- education, low-income) cleavage; return to class-based redistributive conflict (either from an internationalist or nativist perspective). Two main lessons emerge. First, with multi-dimensional inequality, multiple political equilibria and bifurcations can occur. Next, without a strong egalitarian-internationalist platform, it is difficult to unite low- education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party.

On Political Correctness: Power, class, and the new campus religion‘ by William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar, March 6, 2017

Lackademia: Why Do Academics Lean Left?‘ by Noah Carl, Adam Smith Institute, 2nd March 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

• Individuals with left-wing and liberal views are overrepresented in British academia. Those with right-wing and conservative views are correspondingly underrepresented. Around 50% of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties, compared to less than 12% of academics. Conservative and right-wing academics are particularly scarce in the social sciences, the humani- ties and the arts.

• Though relatively little information is available, evidence suggests that the overrepresentation of left-liberal views has increased since the 1960s. The proportion of academics who support the Conservatives may have declined by as much as 25 percentage points since 1964.

• The left-liberal skew of British academia cannot be primarily explained by intel- ligence. The distribution of party support within the top 5% of IQ is relatively similar to the distribution of party support within the general population.

• The left-liberal skew may be partly explained by openness to experience; indi- viduals who score highly on that personality trait tend to pursue intellectually stimulating careers like academia. And within the top 5% of IQ, openness to experience predicts support for left-wing parties.

• Other plausible explanations for left-liberal overrepresentation include: social homophily and political typing; individual conformity; status inconsistency; and discrimination.

• Ideological homogeneity within the academy may have had a number of adverse consequences: systematic biases in scholarship; curtailments of free speech on university campuses; and defunding of academic research by right-wing govern- ments.

• Recommendations include: raising awareness; being alert to double standards; encouraging adversarial collaborations; and emphasizing the benefits of ideo- logical heterogeneity within the academy.

How Politically Diverse are the Social Sciences and Humanities? Survey Evidence from Six Fields‘, D.B. Klein and C. Stern, Academic Questions, Transaction, 9th February 2005

Abstract

In Spring 2003, a large-scale survey of American academics was conducted using academic association membership lists from six fields: Anthropology, Economics, History, Philosophy (political and legal), Political Science, and Sociology. This paper focuses on one question: To which political party have the candidates you’ve voted for in the past ten years mostly belonged? The question was answered by 96.4 percent of academic respondents. The results show that the faculty is heavily skewed towards voting Democratic. The most lopsided fields surveyed are Anthropology with a D to R ratio of 30.2 to 1, and Sociology with 28.0 to 1. The least lopsided is Economics with 3.0 to 1. After Economics, the least lopsided is Political Science with 6.7 to 1. The average of the six ratios by field is about 15 to 1. Our analysis and related research suggest that for the the social sciences and humanities overall, a “one-big-pool” ratio of 7 to 1 is a safe lower-bound estimate, and 8 to 1 or 9 to 1 are reasonable point estimate. Thus, the social sciences and humanities are dominated by Democrats. There is little ideological diversity. We discuss Stephen Balch’s “property rights” proposal to help remedy the situation.

Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty‘, S. Rothman, S.R. Lichter, N. Nevitte, The Forum: Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 2, 2005

Abstract

This article first examines the ideological composition of American university faculty and then tests whether ideological homogeneity has become self-reinforcing. A randomly based national survey of 1643 faculty members from 183 four-year colleges and universities finds that liberals and Democrats outnumber conservatives and Republicans by large margins, and the differences are not limited to elite universities or to the social sciences and humanities. A multivariate analysis finds that, even after taking into account the effects of professional accomplishment, along with many other individual characteristics, conservatives and Republicans teach at lower quality schools than do liberals and Democrats. This suggests that complaints of ideologically-based discrimination in academic advancement deserve serious consideration and further study. The analysis finds similar effects based on gender and religiosity, i.e., women and practicing Christians teach at lower quality schools than their professional accomplishments would predict.