Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Universities must promote free speech

Enough of safe spaces, no-platforming, and other pathetic leaning-over-backwards to placate the sensitive snow-flake generation.

Toughen up you brightest of the bright (allegedly)

Sir Michael Barber, the head of the new student watchdog has vowed to enforce free speech on campuses.

He says that students or academics who prevented discussion or debate out of fear of offending others were on a “slippery slope“. Universities, in his view, “should be places of intellectual and personal “discomfort”. Being comfortable was a step towards being “complacent” or “self-satisfied” whereas he thought more profound learning required discomfort.

The Office for Students  will adopt “the widest possible definition of freedom of speech – namely anything within the law” when it begins monitoring campuses in April.

He says he hopes they will never have to intervene (I think they’ll be busy) but if they do “it will be to widen freedom of speech rather than restrict it”

In defence of students he thought this generation “was demonstrably the best educated in history, hard-working, thoughtful, curious and ambitious“.  He then added “Then, just occasionally I read or hear something that suggests a potential threat to the freedom of speech that underpins such optimism”.

I think the problem is more widespread than he is prepared to admit. I anticipate some universities will be criticised and fined, if not suspended.

I have posted before about daft campuses.





Oxford University publishes list of micro-aggressions

In the latest snowflake newsletter from Oxford University students are warned to be aware of micro-aggressions by the university’s equality and diversity unit (an oxymoron if ever I heard one as you’re not allowed to express different views anymore).

So if you don’t look another student in the eye you might be guilty of racist behaviour. This is absolute poppycock. What about cultural differences where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone directly in the face? Or people who are shy, or introverts, or on the autistic spectrum?

And don’t ask a black or minority ethnic student where they are “originally” from. It might suggest you don’t believe they are British. Well they may not be and what if you are interested in knowing more about other cultures? Isn’t that why you go to university – to expand your mind?

And don’t joke about someone’s accent. Not even Geordie, black country (can we still call it that?) or scouse accents? (And didn’t Sir Lenny Henry make a living out of funny accents?)

The newsletter says that subtle everyday racism can appear trivial but “repeated micro-aggressions can be tiring and alienating (and can lead to mental ill-health”).

It says some people who do these things may be entirely well-meaning and would be mortified to realise they had caused offence. “But this is of little consequence if a possible effect of their words or actions is to suggest to people that may fulfil a negative stereotype or do not belong”. Or they might just think “get over it”.

The coordinator of the Free Speech Ranking project that highlights censorship on university campuses, called it ridiculous. “This is all part of a chilling desire on the part of university authorities to police not just opinions but everyday conversations between students. It’s not only deeply authoritarian, it has a chilling effect on how students interact with one another“.

The university defended the advice saying that “the equality and diversity unit works with university bodies to ensure that the university’s pursuit of excellence goes hand in hand with freedom from discrimination and equality of opportunity and the newsletter is one way of advising and supporting staff towards achieving these aims

What about freedom of speech and encouraging students to think for themselves? All this advice is tiring and irritating to those of us who live in the real world.

Update 28/4/17 from BBC website

Oxford University has apologised for saying that avoiding eye contact could be “everyday racism” after it was accused of discriminating against, and criticised for being “insensitive” to autistic people who can struggle making eye contact.

It said it had made a mistake and not taken disabilities into account. In a series of tweets, the university replied: “We made a mistake. Our newsletter was too brief to deal adequately and sensibly with the issue. “We are sorry that we took no account of other reasons for difference in eye contact and social interaction, including disability.

“Oxford deeply values and works hard to support students and staff with disabilities, including those with autism or social anxiety disorder.”

Some academics argued the guidance was “trivialising racism“. Emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, Prof Frank Furedi, said the newsletter’s authors “need a reality check“.

It was basically a misguided PC argument put out by ill-informed people at what is supposed to be one of our top universities. Despair.

University of East Anglia is daftest campus in UK


graduation_hat_tassel_flip_anim_500_wht_14455And not in a good way. The students there have already banned Tate & Lyle sugar from the campus shop, blocked six nations rugby being screened in the union bar, boycotted Starbucks and Nestlé, banned the dale of red-top newspapers (page 3) stopped sombreros being given out (cultural appropriation), and tried to ban UKIP from speaking there as it would make students feel less safe and secure.

I understand some of these e.g. companies who avoid paying tax or discourage breast-feeding in poor countries (I boycott Nestlé products myself for that reason).

Fossil fuel extraction and global warming is  matter of opinion and I’m for anything Emma Thompson and her luvvie friends are against on principle.

The university has provided day-time sleeping berths for hungover students. Why you might ask.

And their latest idea? Asking students not to throw their mortar boards in the air on graduation photos in case anyone…

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Are our students the most illiberal and wimpish ever?

group_of_protesters_1600_wht_9442I’m sick of hearing about safe spaces and micro-aggressions (and have posted on this elsewhere).

Not to mention the attempts to remove the  Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University by a Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe (talk about biting the hand that feeds you) backed by the new head of the NUS Malia Bouattia (who has been censured in the past for anti-Semitic comments).

We’ve also had feminists Germaine Greer and Julie Bindell and gay activist Peter Tatchell banned from university campuses because of their views on transgender issues. No platform is the new mantra for people trying to stop free speech or alternative views.

Now a survey of students’ attitudes towards free speech by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi)  “Keeping Schtum? What Students think of Free Speech” reveals the shocking truth about present-day students.

They don’t believe in free speech.

Asking over 1,000 students in 100 British Universities the Hepi found that:

  • 75% would ban speakers who had views that offended them
  • Two-thirds support the idea that students should be given “trigger warnings” before sensitive subjects such as rape were raised in class so they could leave if it would upset them
  • More than half said they wanted to get rid of university memorials to controversial historical figures
  • 48% wanted universities to be declared “safe spaces” where debate only takes place within strict rules to safeguard students of a particular gender, culture, or sexuality
  • And almost half supported the idea that librarians should not stock racist, sexist, or holocaust-denial literature
  • 38% said student unions should ban the sale of some tabloid newspapers
  • 27% said UKIP members should not be invited to speak on campus

And women were more likely than men to accept censorship – 55% want safe spaces compared to 39% of men and 45% want to ban tabloid newspapers compared to 29% of male students.

Feminist writer Naomi Wolf said the attitudes displayed in the report were “catastrophic” and showed a “terrifying trend, especially in British Universities which for 800 years have served as lights of freedom of thought in various past times of oppression“. She thought British Universities should shudder at the report and take immediate action.

Historian Amanda Foreman said it was sad that students were fighting for the right to close their minds against new ideas. “You only have to look at the german student unions which organised the burning of 25,000 un-German books at 34 universities in 1933 to know that freedom’s enemies comes in all shapes and sizes”

The report’s author Nick Hillman said “This is the first detailed study on what the mass of UK students really think about freedom of speech and it makes worrying reading”.  A bit of an understatement I think.

He thought Higher Education Institutions should redouble their efforts to discuss the challenges to free speech with their students.

And universities should urgently arrange teaching to challenge the bigotry and prejudices of their students and get them to open their minds to debate.

I feel only sympathy for academics trying to teach in this oppressive environment, being oppressed by the very people they are trying to educate.

How did we get to this pitiful state of affairs? And what does the future hold for these close-minded oversensitive souls who are supposed to be our brightest and best? Did it start with parents managing a risk-averse childhood?

Heaven help them when – or if, given that some will stay in academia and further propagate this nonsense – they have to live in the real world and interact with real people on a day-to day basis with all their different values and prejudices.