Academics like me live in fear of the woke hate mob, writes MATTHEW GOODWIN, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent
The date everything changed is entrenched in my memory – June 23, 2016, the day Britain voted for Brexit.
Before that moment I was a professor of British politics who loved his job, enjoyed spending time with his colleagues and looked forward to life in Britain’s universities, which are among the best in the world.
But since then I have fallen out of love with my job, avoid my colleagues and look to the future with a sense of dread. So what happened?
Unlike the vast majority of people who teach and research in Britain’s universities, I made the mistake of saying publicly that we should respect the Brexit referendum result.
I was no Brexiteer but, in a world where just one in ten academics backed a Brexit decision that more than half of the country supported, merely accepting the result was more than enough to make me an outcast.
For the next four years, I faced a constant wave of criticism that at times bordered on harassment.
Politics professor Matthew Goodwin says he was subject to online abuse and professional backlash after expressing the opinion that people should respect the Brexit referendum result
One professor told me to my face that I was disinvited from a workshop in my area of research because of my views on Brexit.
Others hurled insults on social media and still more concocted a plot to make it appear that I was a supporter of Donald Trump (I was not).
But it was nothing compared to what some of my colleagues have endured.
There is a long list of academics in Britain’s universities who have found themselves marginalised or intimidated by fellow academics, administrators or students.
They have been ‘no-platformed’, harassed or sacked because their views on issues like Brexit, gender or the legacy of Britain’s empire violate the woke orthodoxy.
Which is why, over the past year, a group of rebel academics began meeting to share ideas about how to push back against this illiberalism. I am proud to be a founding member of that secretive group.
Somerville College, Oxford, (pictured) told all students they must complete an ‘unconscious bias’ course to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’
We worked to support freedom in our universities and ensure they remain places where students can be exposed to a full range of ideological views and where academics are not punished or mocked for holding different views.
And, thankfully, Boris Johnson’s Government is listening. In 2019, the Conservatives became one of the first parties in the world to include a commitment to defend academic freedom in its manifesto.
In a policy paper this week, the Government details plans to bring in legislation that will defend academics and universities from the illiberal liberalism that is taking hold, with a ‘free speech champion’ who will have powers to protect students and academics from the woke mob.
Ironically, the paper came as Mrs Thatcher’s old college, Somerville in Oxford, instructed all students to take what are widely regarded as flawed tests in ‘unconscious bias’ to expose their innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’.
Somerville College’s Principal, the Labour peer Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, initially told students they must ‘achieve a mark of 100 per cent’ in a final test – although she has since made clear ‘there was never even the slightest question of disciplinary action following a student not completing the test or scoring less than 100 per cent’.
Academic staff, however, have not escaped disciplinary action for expressing non-conformist views.
Take Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, hounded after challenging the narrow trans orthodoxy.
Or the Canadian Professor of Psychology and critic of political correctness, Jordan Peterson, who suddenly had his invitation for a fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded.
Dr Kathleen Stock a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex (pictured), has been outspoken on gender identity issues and has been hounded over her views on the subject
Other colleagues at Oxford, Birkbeck, Exeter and elsewhere have been hauled in front of disciplinary committees, faced student mobs or been disinvited from conferences because of their challenging views. Some have even been forced to have security at their lectures.
By my count, there have been at least two dozen cases where academics have spoken out publicly about being mistreated after merely challenging the established group-think.
Many more suffered abuse but dare not say so for fear this will damage their careers.
Critics will say that all of this is exaggerated. But a string of recent studies show just how lop-sided our universities have become.
Today only about one in ten academics are Conservatives while at recent elections an astonishing three-quarters voted for liberal-Left parties like Labour, the Greens or Lib Dems.
One study found that more than two-thirds of our universities have had a free speech controversy over the past four years and more than half experienced a ‘cancel culture’ event, whereby staff or students used open letters and petitions to try to shut down debate and visiting speakers.
Critic of political correctness Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian Professor of Psychology and Clinical Psychologist had his invitation for a fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded
This gulf between what is happening on university campuses and in wider British society is damaging higher education, making it harder to expose students to the diverse array of views that they will meet in the real world.
It also helps explain why so many academics, researchers and students now say they ‘self-censor’ in their lectures and seminars, hiding their real views because of fears over the response.
Research by the think-tank Policy Exchange found that a shocking 80 per cent of the (very few) academics who supported Brexit would not feel comfortable sharing their views with colleagues on campus.
Nor are they wrong to think this way. About half of academics say they would feel uncomfortable sitting next to a Brexiteer at lunch.
Too often, our universities have lost sight of why they are there.
They are not supposed to be putting the ‘emotional safety’ of their students ahead of free inquiry and the search for truth.
They are not supposed to be building ideological cocoons whereby academics close ranks against those who hold different views.
Only by encouraging every diverse idea to be presented and challenged can they possibly remain among the best in the world.
Matthew Goodwin is Professor of Politics at the University of Kent
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