University campuses around the world including here in Australia have long had a leftist groupthink. The dominance of the left has become so prevalent that conservative or liberal ideas are not simply disagreed with but must be shut down. In the most extreme cases trigger warnings are demanded for content featuring non-leftist ideas and safe spaces offered for those who find such ideas traumatic. There have also been many attempts to violently shut down conservatives speakers on campus and other forms of intimidation aimed at conservative students.
There has been a push by those on the right to reclaim universities which were once the pinnacle of western thought and open inquiry. This was the goal of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization set up by an endowment by the late Paul Ramsay AO which aims establish scholarship funds and educational courses in partnership with universities.
But its first effort has been scuttled by the university establishment. The Centre had been in negotiations with the Australian National University to establish a Bachelor of Western Civilization course. But after a backlash from the academic union and student association ANU abruptly withdrew from 6 months of negotiations claiming the proposed course would compromise the university’s academic autonomy.
ANU’s sudden decision has been met with much disappointment and despair from those seeking reform of our universities. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham demanded a please explain from ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt.
Given that ANU’s decision is not the first time an Australian university has caved into the leftist academic and student base Liberal Senator James Paterson in an opinion piece in the Australian yesterday has proposed fining universities for failing to uphold the value of free speech to avoid further “administrative cowardice” from universities.
Paterson believes it is the role of the federal government to ensure that universities are “upholding values of intellectual freedom, free speech and viewpoint diversity” given that they recieve$16.9 billion in government funding each year. He argues “Academic freedom is not a blank cheque for academics to stifle alternative views”.
Simon Birmingham has already signalled he is receptive to the idea “With funding for higher education at record levels, taxpayers and the broader community rightly expect that our universities uphold the values and standards of free speech and academic freedom”.
No doubt the university establishment would take Paterson’s proposal as an attack on academic freedom and autonomy and call it an act of a totalitarian government. We would likely see students and academics up their protests and intimidation on university campuses.
This would be a policy that would take much political capital to implement. But it must be said, is there any other way we can restore some balance to our universities? Or is our university system now beyond saving?