“IF you don’t believe in free speech for people who you disagree with, and even hate for what they stand for,” said Ricky Gervais recently, “then you don’t believe in free speech.”
As so often, the fearless comedian cut through all the virtue-signalling cr*p to expose a simple, unassailable hard truth about a supposedly complex issue.
But his words seem to have fallen on alarmingly deaf ears when it comes to current university students.
A shocking new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) revealed a dramatic and disturbing surge in support for censorship, “safe spaces” and protection from alternate viewpoints among young people attending Britain’s finest academic institutions.
Of the 1,000 students surveyed, nearly two thirds (61 per cent) were opposed to “unlimited free speech” compared with 37 per cent in 2016.
Just 17 per cent said they supported “ensuring unlimited free speech on campus, although offence may occasionally be allowed” (27 per cent in 2016).
And a staggering 86 per cent of them endorse the use of trigger warnings so they can be “protected” from coursework that might upset them.
It gets worse.
More than a third of the students (36 per cent) believe their teachers should be fired for exposing them to any material they find offensive, which is double the number in 2016.
Thirty-nine per cent (up from 16 per cent) believe student unions should ban all speakers that might cause offence, and 35 per cent (up from 17 per cent) believe allowing a debate on a controversial issue makes it “more acceptable”.
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Oh, and 76 per cent want universities to “get rid” of any statues or memorials to historical figures they find “problematic” — which of course, is pretty much all of them.
(Remember that during the BLM protests in 2020, statues in Parliament Square of Churchill, Mandela and Gandhi all had to be boarded up — nobody’s safe.)
Universities are supposed to be places where our brightest young minds go to broaden their knowledge, challenge themselves, hear different opinions and take risks.
Instead, they’re turning into grotesque cotton wool-wrapped bubbles of spineless, intransigent intolerance to any views the delicate little lambs don’t like.
I’ve warned for years about the dangers of this woke, cancel-culture mindset infesting society and now we can see the damning evidence for ourselves laid bare.
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Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, said: “In 2016, we found considerable ambivalence and confusion about free-speech issues.
“Now, it is clear most students want greater restrictions to be imposed than . . . in the past.
“This may be primarily for reasons of compassion, with the objective of protecting other students, but it could also reflect a lack of resilience.
“Things have seemingly swung too far in one direction, with relatively few students recognising the unavoidable trade-offs involved with ever greater restrictions on legal free speech.”
This verdict didn’t surprise me — but it did make me shudder.
What possible preparation is this kind of student-dictated education for the real world?
These kids are in for a very nasty shock when they stumble blinkered from their cossetted, censored campus life to discover most people outside it think this illiberal mindset is a crock of nonsense.
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said the survey showed a “shocking growth in support for censorship” and vowed to make free speech on campus a priority.
She fumed: “University leaders can no longer afford to stand aside but must take active steps to combat these intolerant attitudes on campus, both promoting and protecting free speech.
“We cannot allow our young people — the future of this great country — to feel like their free speech is being stifled and that they have to bow to the majority opinions on campus.”
She’s right, and I know Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi shares her concerns. But parents have also got to take a lead in stopping their kids falling down these dangerously woke rabbit holes.
I’ve got four children from 28 to ten and I encourage all of them not just to speak their minds but also to listen to, and tolerate, others who disagree with them — including me!
We have many very heated arguments about issues of the day, but nobody is ever told they can’t have their opinion or banished and disowned for expressing one the rest of us don’t like.
Only through rigorous debate based on facts not feelings can consensus get reached or progress get made.
In perhaps the most absurd example of what’s going on in universities around the world, a philosophy professor named J. Angelo Corlett, at San Diego State University in California, was barred from his courses with no due process because he used offensive language in a lecture he had taught for 20 years . . . about the use of offensive language!
Is that where we’re heading in Britain, too?
If so, we need to urgently think about what kind of society we’re creating for ourselves and the future.
For a clue what it would look like, try watching Snowflake Mountain, the new Netflix reality show about a bunch of pampered, privileged prima donnas despatched to a brutally tough survival bootcamp.
The clueless, delusional drama queens don’t have any of their normal comfort blankets like running water or wifi, nor their pitifully weak downtrodden mummies and daddies to fawn over them and succumb to their every whim.
So, inevitably, the responsibility devoid “kidults” respond with whiny, self-pitying uselessness to even basic tasks such as chopping firewood.
What links these woeful wastrels to the university snowflakes is an inherent mental and physical weakness, a predilection for over-sensitive victimhood, brainwashed echo chambers, blaming everyone else for their own failings and a basic lack of heart, resilience, determination and willingness to expose themselves to discomfort.
Frankly, it’s pathetic.
I would say they all need to grow a pair, but they’d just burst into tears and call the police.