ONCE upon a time, universities were the ultimate forum of ideas. Today, however, college campuses have become some of the most intolerant places, and academic freedom, as Frank Furedi has argued, has become a big deal. Lecturers’ or students’ feelings have come to trump the pursuit of truth.
Today, conventional – not least conservative and traditional – as well as unconventional viewpoints are enough to make the holder persona non grata. In the UK, that academics were found to be too scared to admit their support for Brexit was the reason behind the Briefings for Brexit website. Several still dare write only under a pseudonym.
A growing number of people don’t even believe they have the right to speak their mind in case they might offend someone, somewhere. Students advocate for ‘safe spaces’ in which open debate and discussions are not allowed, where they cannot be ‘triggered’. The replacement of clapping with ‘jazz hands’ reported in TCW today is but one example of this new self censorship and repression.
This silencing has extended far beyond the dreaming spires and into the wider corporate, business and media worlds. Are we now to put up with being silenced for ever from expressing ideas that may not conform with the politically correct? What can be done to restore our constitutional and civil liberties?
In the United States, where the First Amendment (intellectual freedom and the very idea of free speech) is under threat as never before with bans and even violence, and prompted by Big Tech’s censorship of the academic conservative website PragerU, a fightback has begun. With the help of a wide range of well-known figures including Tim Allen, Jordan Peterson, Sharyl Attkisson, Alan Dershowitz, Ben Shapiro, Van Jones, Candace Owens, Dave Rubin, Ann Coulter and Cornel West, a hard-hitting film, No Safe Spaces, has been made and is touring college campuses with Denis Prager at the helm. He is talking with experts on the Right and Left in a mission to understand what is happening in America today and to explain why the free exchange of ideas is fundamental to a free society, and why the attacks on the First Amendment are attacks upon the foundations of America itself.
You can find a trailer of the film on the Independent Institutes website as well as details of its US showings here.
Watching it made me realise that we are in sore need of an equivalent UK initiative. Is there a free speech philanthropist willing to fund one here? Are there the academic, media or public figures robust enough to front it? If they did, would they find their work banned from the very universities in need of its influence?