Cambridge has become the epicentre of the 'wokeness' epidemic plaguing our universities

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Cambridge has become the epicentre of the 'wokeness' epidemic plaguing our universities Empty Cambridge has become the epicentre of the 'wokeness' epidemic plaguing our universities

Post by phildidge on Sat May 11, 2019 4:16 pm

The university has traded academic freedom for institutional virtue-signalling
From outside their gates, all institutions look monolithic. The Foreign Office, large multinationals, universities - all conjure up ideas of slow, endlessly resisted change. In fact all institutions are in flux. And never more so than today, when the whole underpinnings of our societies and morality are up for grabs.

In recent years the ideology known as “wokeness” has ridden through public and private institutions. Government departments are duty bound to pursue “diversity” as an objective in itself, which in practice means a pursuit of quotas that prioritise a person’s characteristics over their ability. Heads of major corporations and departments talk about “intersectionality” and other creations of the ideological far-Left as though they will enrich their companies, rather than impoverish them.

Even the most hallowed institutions have shown themselves eager to be seen courting this disastrously ill-thought through ideology. Anyone in any doubt over that fact need only look behind the hallowed gates of Cambridge University. In recent months it has taken a set of decisions which make one of our foremost seats of learning look not just woke but weak.

In March the university announced that it had withdrawn its invitation to the Cambridge academic Jordan Peterson to a visiting fellowship in the Faculty of Divinity. It is fair to say that the Cambridge University Divinity Faculty does not often attract a wide or international amount of attention. By contrast Professor Peterson is not just a respected academic but an academic phenomenon.

His online lectures on Genesis are not only deep and learned but have been watched with benefit by millions of people. Peterson had hoped to use his position at Cambridge to research and speak about the book of Exodus. It would have benefited many people. But most of all it would have benefited Cambridge who would have demonstrated that the best, elite universities stand above the political fray in a way which lower-grade institutions stumble in quagmire of grievance claims and “safe spaces”.

As it was, a group of Left-wing activists at Cambridge – students and academics – decided to lobby against the appointment. And the university caved, ignominiously and ineptly announcing that the invitation to Peterson had been withdrawn. It was the first of a triumvirate of decisions which shows that Cambridge – like so many institutions – is not what it once was.

Last month the university was back in the news for its announcement that it intends to conduct an inquiry into ways in which it may have contributed to, or benefited from, the slave trade. The decision is a textbook example of institutional virtue-signalling. If Cambridge did benefit from the slave trade – as so many people did, not least African slave-dealers – then how ought the university to make amends?

In recent days it has removed a bell which “most likely” was once used on a slave plantation. Who knows where the impetus for such pathetic and ahistorical gestures come from? Some link it to the recent arrival of a new Vice Chancellor, a less well-known Canadian than Professor Peterson: a lawyer called Stephen Toope who has “woke” form in his native country.

But these things are not games. Hardline ideologies – however much they are disguised in claims of fairness and decency – always betray hard and unfair edges. Last month St Edmund’s College Cambridge fired a young research academic called Noah Carl. The social scientist was dropped from his research fellowship not for anything he did wrong, but because a gaggle of students and academics in unrelated disciplines decided that they were offended by his research. Their complaints made it clear that they had not read any of his work. But institutions which begin to boast of their new principles turn out to be remarkably unbothered by old, passé ones such as honesty, decency, fair-play or – it would appear – knowing what you are talking about.

In announcing Carl’s firing the authorities at St Edmund’s apologised for the offence it might have caused to students by appointing someone whose views may not have aligned with their own.

As it happens I met Mr Carl this week at a conference organised by Nigel Biggar, the regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford. The difference between a university that has taken to bending to the rabble, and one that has risen above it has rarely seemed clearer.

Two years ago Professor Biggar was subjected to an extraordinary firestorm of abuse and defamation because he had the temerity to do two things. One was to offer a moderating voice to some aspiring South African politicians who chose to pretend that Oxford would be a systemically racist institution until it had carried out an iconoclastic purge of any and all statues and other associations with Cecil Rhodes. Biggar also ran into a firestorm for starting a course looking into the ethics of empire. On the former occasion Oxford University held strong.

When the provost of Oriel College appeared to suggest that iconoclasm could be one of her college’s values the college’s alumni and donors rebelled. Her reign was cut peremptorily short, and the University’s Chancellor, Chris Patten, laudably explained that students who couldn’t deal with freedom of thought should “think about being educated elsewhere.”

It says something about a culture when Chris Patten is the strongest person in the room. No equivalent leadership has been demonstrated at Stephen Toope’s Cambridge.

It was in the third of his three rules of politics that the late Robert Conquest said, “the simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” The behaviour of Cambridge university in recent months suggests that it has been taken over if not by a cabal of its enemies then certainly of its competitors.

The latest degradations of Cambridge were emerging in the press on the very days that Oxford was hosting a range of academics from across several continents and numerous disciplines who had in many cases suffered for academic freedom but who were unanimous in their defence of this crucial and embattled principle. The fact that Oxford allowed Noah Carl a platform to defend himself whilst he was being defamed in Cambridge spoke volumes. Perhaps Oxford could push the advantage by offering a position in its Theology Faculty to a certain very famous Canadian academic? Not Stephen Toope, obviously.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/05/11/cambridge-has-become-epicenter-wokeness-epidemic-plaguing-universities/

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