Being a conservative-minded student is hard. Ideas that do not conform to the liberal agenda of most lecturers are derided as racist, sexist or some other discussion-ending virtue-signal. This experience will be familiar to students who think that Burke’s reflections are more than just an antiquated peculiarity. However Burke is a name that may not be familiar to many students, halfway through a politics and english degree and he is yet to be discussed but for a few off the cuff remarks. Rousseau on the other hand never seems to be out of the minds of the lecturers. Take it from somebody on the front line: everything you have been told about higher education is true.
Much has been written about the attacks being made on free speech and the attempts by some groups to shut down any dissenting opinion on campuses across Britain and America. Ireland is not immune to this phenomenon. In September 2015, students at Trinity College Dublin (Ireland’s most prestigious university and an institution that counts Burke among its alumni) voted down the motion that, “freedom of speech should include the right to offend”.
A year before that a video emerged online showing a student at Galway University launch a foul-mouthed tirade against a speaker opposing sanctions against Israel, telling him to “get the f*** off my campus” a word he quite impressively used sixteen times in a thirty nine second clip. This display was met with the rapturous sound of childish desk slapping by his fellow comrades in an attempt to drown out the speaker. That same year a pro-life society at the University of Limerick was rejected funding by the university’s clubs and societies council (the first ever such instance).
The sad fact is that these instances are the direct result of students being taught by lecturers confirmed in the tradition of Rousseau and his ideological descendants.
In the world of the loony lefty lecturer, Brexit is the result of xenophobia, any concerns surrounding Islam and immigration are laughable, Churchill for those of you who didn’t know was a fascist, while ‘Trump’ and ‘Holocaust’ are comfortably mentionable in the same sentence. These are all things I have actually heard lecturers say. Certain lecturers will reference left wing theorist after left wing theorist without even acknowledging the possibility of an alternate viewpoint. In English, for example, it seems that almost every prescribed literary theorist is Marxist, radical feminist, post-modernist or one of a whole host of other left-wing variations. Countless well respected textbooks mention again and again how the traditional Western literary canon is sexist, racist, homophobic, classist etc.
It is no secret that a majority of humanities academics are left-wing or liberal. There are many reasons for this. Liberal students tend to be more likely to pursue PhDs and this in time leads to more liberal professors and lecturers. Conservatives tend to be more geared towards entrepreneurship. It is also the case that within the social sciences conservative academics are more likely to face discrimination and hostility from their liberal counterparts and thus feel discouraged from pursuing careers in academia. The fact that most academics within the humanities are left wing or liberal is within itself no big deal; it is when this bias seeps into course material and teaching methods that it becomes dangerous.
Many lecture halls have become echo chambers. Students that were left wing going into college are further hardened by virtue of the fact their convictions go unchallenged. Students that were politically ambivalent or centrist going into college are often turned left by being constantly fed left wing views and opinions by lecturers in authority.
Where does this all leave students that don’t follow these orthodoxies? It leaves us hunched over laptops desperately searching Google for dissenting voices and any academics who (in a move that was no doubt career damaging) have published material that challenges these viewpoints. It leaves us wondering, “If I challenge these views in my exam or essay will I be unfairly penalised?” Watching a Roger Scruton lecture in the library feels like a subversive act, requiring one to surreptitiously peek above the monitor for fear of being exposed.
While the last point may be a tad hyperbolic, the day will come. It is this stifling atmosphere that leads students to want to shut down debate the first time they hear an opinion they don’t like. Why wouldn’t I disagree with the right to offend if all my lecturer has ever done is reinforce my opinions and scorn those who do not? Why wouldn’t I want to shut down a pro-life society if I’ve been taught all pro-lifers are women-hating religious zealots? It would be understandable for me to want to disrupt a talk on Israel if I have been told again and again that it is a country full of Zionist Islamophobes.
Unfortunately to receive a decent education, a conservative student is forced to become an autodidact.
Jason Newman is a student at an Irish university.