Students are supposed to be committed to examining ideas from all angles, but a few incidents at British universities over the last few months have left me wondering if some students aren’t a new breed of apparatchik, indoctrinated by liberal orthodoxy.
Take a recent motion at Oxford University Students Union (OUSU), for example, which if passed would threaten the standing of Oxford Students For Life (OSFL), an official student society registered with the university. The motion resolved “never to platform any group or organization which provides directional advice around abortion or explicitly stands against women’s right to choose.”
OSFL commented, “It looked, at first glance, like an attack on free speech. On closer investigation, it still looked like an attack on free speech.”
The motion was amended and censorship of free speech on campus narrowly prevented, by 27 votes to 24.
I’m glad because Oxford is my alma mater, and where I experienced a crisis pregnancy whilst studying for a doctorate. Had I known of a university crèche next to the library, or a faculty that tolerated sleeping babies in lecture theatres, I might have felt able to continue the pregnancy and my studies. OSFL wants students to have more not less – parenthood and an education, life for mother and child – not either/or.
Promoting a culture of life in universities isn’t about ‘opposing women’s rights’ but about changing structures on campus so that students who find themselves pregnant and unsupported can continue to study. It’s about discussing interesting philosophical, medical, and ethical questions around when life begins.
There are some too blinkered by ideology to see this. Liberal orthodoxy tells them pro-lifers are right-wing religious nut jobs, hell bent on taking women back to the Dark Ages, and the only response is to ban and censor pro-lifers on campus. No debate, end of discussion.
It used to be that students were the ones vigorously resisting censorship on campus. Now they’re the ones proposing it.
Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of abortion provider BPAS, has written about ‘the moral cowardice of no-platforming’ on campus. She quite rightly sees it as a free speech issue.
Last month she turned up at Trinity College, Cambridge, to participate in a debate organized by Cambridge Students For Life and Cambridge Medicine Society. The debate, ‘Genetics and disability should not be used as grounds for abortion’, was intended to supplement a module in the Medicine tripos, and it was moderated by a lecturer in bioethics.
Those attending the debate were met with a protest organized by the Student Union Women’s Officer. Protesters held signs saying ‘Abortion Rights Not Up 4 Debate’ and handed out leaflets declaring “Debate is a conversation of power, where the objective is to win: to overpower the other side. This is violence. It is not ‘discussion.’”
I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life and clearly neither has Ann Furedi, who remarked, “In my day we protested at meetings where debate was prevented.”
It’s not just pro-life issues. Under pressure from the Students Union LGBT campaign, Trinity College Oxford stopped a conference going ahead on its premises because the organisers would be discussing same-sex marriage.
“Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” That’s from John Milton’s Areopagitica, a text I studied at Oxford. Do students still read it I wonder?