Our Universities Have Caved In To Lazy Groupthink

Written by:
20 September 2019
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In the lead-up to Friday’s Global Climate Strike, enlightening emails have found their way into staff and student university in­boxes. These communications are as illuminating as they are disheartening, as they once again reveal the extent to which our institutions of higher education have been captured by ideologically driven activists.

The array of carefully crafted messages that have been doing the rounds at Notre Dame, Queensland, NSW, La Trobe and Melbourne universities range from the subtle suggestion that staff may like to “accommodate” striking students, to robustly and actively encouraging students to ditch their studies and take to the streets to yell about climate change.

Without exception, all students have been informed that they will not be penalised for absenteeism and that there will be absolutely no repercussions for non-attendance. This is completely at odds with standard university attendance requirements, which are markedly unforgiving.

Perhaps the most telling of all emails, however, has come from the desk of Stephen Trumble, head of the department of medical education at the University of Melbourne, who writes: “All students are encouraged to consider joining with staff in participating in the Global Climate Strike on Friday 20th September. The medical school supports sustainable development and mitigating the effects of climate change.”

It seems that the priorities of Melbourne University’s medical school are misguided. Australians want doctors who are trained to diagnose and cure illness, not doctors who are trained to be eco­-warriors. “One of our course outcomes,” Trumble concludes, “is that Melbourne MD graduates should practise medicine in an environmentally sustainable manner so as not to contribute to this immediate problem.”

One wonders whether this might look like a surgeon turning off the operating theatre lights and poking around inside the unfortunate patient by candlelight.

It smacks of ideological totalitarianism, where staff and students at our universities are being compelled to conform to the orthodoxy prevalent on campus.

The question is, what will become of the rebels who choose to go to class? Their presence in the lecture theatres will single them out as dissidents and they will be judged accordingly as climate change deniers. Never mind what they may think about climate change in private, their public inaction will condemn them in the eyes of their peers.

As it turns out, the same fate is awaiting those Victorian public servants who, rather than joining their colleagues on the streets of Melbourne, have chosen to remain at their desks.

Unsurprisingly, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who this week achieved the honour of being the highest paid premier in the country, is encouraging his employees to ask for “flexible working arrangements” so they can help bring his city to a standstill.

Taxpayers are essentially paying public servants to take the day off. It is unlikely that the Department of Premier and Cabinet would display the same degree of leniency towards staff if they were to down tools on a Friday afternoon to attend an anti-abortion rally.

What we are seeing on campus and indeed in government is the spirit of the mob at work. This concept is explored by Douglas Murray in his latest book The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. “We are,” he observes, “going through great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant.”

One of the most profound impacts that postmodernism and identity politics have had on our universities is the crippling of intellectual inquiry. When universities are fiercely and repeatedly advocating diversity as a fundamental academic value, the reality is that diversity of opinion has been all but banished from many classrooms and lecture theatres, where the predominantly liberal-left world view, once concealed within the humanities, has become the wider orthodoxy.

The fact remains, students want diversity of opinion on campus. In a recent survey of 500 domestic students commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, 82 per cent of respondents, no matter what their political persuasion, said university was a place where they should be exposed to different views, even if those views are challenging or offensive. The results also showed that students were looking outside the university to be challenged or to find out alternative points of view, with 58 per cent of students saying they were more exposed to new ideas on social media than on campus.

Things must be dire indeed if students are finding greater diversity of opinion on the notoriously skewed platforms of Twitter or Facebook.

The Global Climate Strike shows that universities are no longer the chief institutions through which knowledge is preserved, generated and disseminated. Australian campuses are rapidly becoming places where intellectual inquiry is being crippled and the free exchange of ideas is severely limited. Collectivism and groupthink have no place in our universities, which to all intents and purposes are failing in their purpose.

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