Flat White

Three random thoughts: universities, free speech and coronavirus

19 March 2020

1:23 PM

19 March 2020

1:23 PM

We certainly have a problem in our universities and it’s not one that will be spotted by interviewing vice-chancellors.

Last week I was speaking to some Young LNPers in Brisbane at some function in a bar. The theme was education.  Now, this was admittedly a right-of-centre crowd of young people.  Still, I started by asking how many of them tailored their university essays and assignments to say things they didn’t actually believe – made them more left-leaning, more pro-identity politics, more renewable energy is without sin, more open borders, those sort of things.  Seemingly everyone in the audience put up his or her hand.  They all were adamant that you would get worse marks in an Australian university if you put forward right-leaning views.  One of the kids was even in engineering, and even there, he said, you had to be careful not to let slip any conservative worldviews (which, I confess, for all my cynicism about the uni sector surprised me, what with engineering being as ‘hard knowledge’ as it gets). 

This toe-the-party-line environment meshes with my daughter’s experience at university. And every year I get a few students I don’t know drop into my office with this same complaint. I suppose that maybe because I’m known to be one of those rare university creatures, the sort even David Attenborough would have trouble spotting in the wilds of this country’s academia, an outspoken conservative. 

But isn’t that a terribly sad state of affairs?  In some university departments — heck in some whole universities — students can go through a whole degree without encountering a single conservative lecturer.  No diversity there, is there? No exposing young minds to all sorts of competing premises, outlooks, first principles. No confronting them with views they’ve never encountered before in high school or challenging them to try to grasp the great John Stuart Mill insight that holding your own views up to competition from others either makes you change your views or makes your views stronger.  Because you can see their weak spots. Nope. None of that in an institution of higher learning.  God forbid. 

In fact, the great irony is that the upper echelons of all our universities are peopled (I was tempted to say ‘manned’ just to get a reaction) overwhelmingly by left-leaning VCs, DVCs, Deans, Heads, etcetera, etcetera who worship at the altar of diversity. But it’s only diversity of reproductive organs and skin pigmentation they care about. And only those that they want to ‘balance’ and enforce with pseudo-affirmative action programs.  The near total lack of any diversity of political outlooks and worldviews amongst their faculty matters not a whit to the vast preponderance of these managerialist people. Could that be because they, themselves, happen to agree with the prevailing orthodoxies? You might think that. I couldn’t possibly comment. 

And given the total lack of any sort of action to try to fix this problem, I suppose we can all infer that it doesn’t matter a whit to Coalition governments either. This is the ‘don’t want to get involved in the culture wars, old boy’ defeatism that Douglas Murray has been railing against in his latest book. Can’t participate in that, can we? The ABC would be all over us. Softly, softly and all that, my good man. (Temptation not resisted this time.) 

Any readers out there still mad about the Coalition government’s giving up on the free speech battle these past seven years? I am. I’m still fuming – still fuming that s.18C is still not repealed, or at least massively gutted. Abbott gave up on the issue when it became clear he couldn’t carry his cabinet with him on the issue. Or maybe it was the party room. Turnbull gave a half-hearted reform a shot but the Senate baulked. That, I thought, was a perfect time for a double dissolution threat. Meanwhile, Morrison has never shown the slightest commitment to free speech. What was it he once said about it being a third-order issue compared to pocketbook ones, something like that? It’s depressing how little the leaders of our supposedly right of centre political party care about free speech. 

Look, ScoMo, once this virus has passed, call Tim Wilson into your office and give him a mandate to get something done. You’ll recall that Wilson is the Liberal MP who labelled the second leadership spill petition against Malcolm in 2018 as a ‘suicide note’. In other words, Tim is wet through and through. Nor am I sure he’s your go-to guy for political prognostications – better than PVO and Ms Savva, perhaps, but not by much. From where I sit he looks to be a paid up member of the Black Hand brigade, and fully on board with the renewables rent-seekers. But his one redeeming feature is his support for free speech. He’s solid on that. So, Prime Minister, give Tim Wilson the brief to get s.18C emasculated – God knows the idea of emasculating something should, in general terms at least, be popular with the Greens and the Green-like wing of the Coalition. 

And lastly the coronavirus. If anyone tells you they know how this will play out they’re lying. The spectrum of possible outcomes ranges from the near end of ‘this turned out to be a massive over-reaction’ all the way over to the far end of ‘this was nearly as bad as the Spanish Flu in 1918’. If the death rates stay where they are, it will end up being a lot closer to the near end, perhaps even with fewer deaths than we saw with the swine flu in 2009 (and which, you’ll recall, garnered nothing like today’s reaction while killing over half a million people worldwide). If the death rates go up, prepare for something more to the far end. One big problem is that no one knows what the denominator is.  No one knows how many people are infected, recover, and never go to a doctor or hospital and so aren’t part of the statistics. 

Let me just put it this way, in terms the ABC won’t understand.  The science is not settled. 

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