What’s the question?
Sir: Will the wording of the postal plebiscite be set to harvest a ‘Yes’ vote to distort the result (and be rejected) or will it be an honest presentation to identify the real issue and the will of people? The proposed vote will be a test of democracy and political respect for Australian families. An official ‘NO CASE’ will show respect for democracy. Defined clarity of correct questions will display either respect or contempt for the Australian voters. The proposed voting changes to the Marriage Act must be worded politically and grammatically correct to read:
Do you support the registration of Homosexual relationships?
If so, should they be titled “Civil Union” or “Marriage”
Should the traditional word “Marriage”, referring to the family unit of male, female and children be retained exclusively for traditional families?
Only then will there be a result of the people’s wishes.
Without precise clarity of questions you will have the usual political contempt of democracy forcing many to vote ‘No’.
G J May
1 Kirklees Place, Forestall, Qld
Sir: I am so grateful to Madeleine Kearns for having the courage to speak out about her experiences at university when others, including myself, remain silent (‘Unsafe spaces’, 26 August) .
I have done the reverse of Madeleine in that I, a young American woman, moved from New York City to the UK for graduate school. One of the main factors in this decision to continue my education here is because I feel I have more academic and intellectual freedom.
The idea of a balanced argument at my undergraduate university was ‘neoliberal’ versus ‘radically liberal’. We spoke of the importance of diversity, but political diversity was never considered. I thirsted for a deeper understanding of why half of Americans could hold opinions that were only met with dismissive ridicule or barely acknowledged. What I wanted was a wide exposure to different ideas and arguments, whether or not I agreed with them. Instead, even this skewed presentation of liberal opinions was too broad and too offensive for my peers, meriting the need for safe spaces and trigger warnings.
In the US, if someone disagrees with you politically, they disengage from you and refuse to get to know you on a personal level. So I have often kept quiet among my peers, only revealing my true thoughts to those who have ‘come out’ to me in the same way that Madeleine describes. This has been compounded by the fact that my undergraduate degree was in gender studies, a famously radically liberal discipline. I am proud that I do not conform to the stereotype of a gender studies student.
I am grateful that in the UK I have been free to say what I think and not be personally judged. I wish to remain anonymous not because I am ashamed of my views, but because I want to be an academic and fear assumptions might be made about my politics. Academia is so liberal that, though I am politically neutral or centrist, others might regard me as being conservative and not want to hire me. Nevertheless, I look forward to working towards a future where academics have intellectual freedom in the form of open discussion, not anonymous letters.
Anonymous American PhD student
Right or right-on
Sir: I write regarding Madeleine Kearns’s excellent article. As an undergraduate at Manchester Metropolitan University and an instinctive conservative thinker, I have found myself in a similar situation to the one she describes — although I can report that British universities have not yet fully embraced the American model of all-pervasive censorship. Nonetheless, declaring oneself a conservative and a believer in objectivity is often problematic. Try arguing that Churchill was an exemplary individual, Thatcher a great prime minister or, heaven forbid, that Brexit is a logical decision, and you are well and truly outside civilised opinion. In the wider world, however, such views constitute a majority. Although I am reading history, I haven’t even bothered to make the case for the British Empire in my seminars.
Speaking with fellow students one-to-one; however, there is often a clear signal of relief when such views are privately expressed. Don’t believe what you hear; conservatism is alive and well on campus. It has just become the transgressive option.
How to repel snowflakes
Sir: As reported by Brendan O’Neill (‘University challenge’, 26 August) and Madeleine Kearns, some students are not happy with university censorship. It is therefore surprising that none of the 145 or so universities in Britain has broken ranks and advertised with messages such as: ‘Snowflakes need not apply’, or ‘Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is shocking, but we teach it without a trigger warning’. Such a university might attract good students, and perhaps even an able vice-chancellor.
Great Clifton, Cumbria
Upholding free speech
Sir: Brendan O’Neill paints a picture of UK universities that would be alarming if correct. It is nonsense to suggest that the views of students are ‘censored’, that they are taught ‘not to question ideas’ or that ‘universities are factories of conformism’.
It is also factually incorrect that students at my university ‘slapped a ban on tabloids’. Such a ‘ban’ has never been in place. Ironically, this inaccuracy stems from a motion proposed and debated as part of the democratic process followed by our Students’ Union which was not taken forward — an example of the type of open debate that the article suggests does not exist at universities.
Our universities have a deep historical commitment and if that were not enough, a statutory duty (1986 Education Act, clause 43) to uphold freedom of speech within the law. This is something we take very seriously.
Professor Sir Paul Curran
President, City, University of London, EC1
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