Barbara Kay: The Campus Condition
National Post - Wednesday January 30th, 2013
In his Saturday National Post column, Rex Murphy considers the case of long-time student Arun Smith, who last week enjoyed his 15 minutes of media fame for vandalizing a message board at Ottawa’s Carleton University, because he found some of the postings on abortion and marriage offensive.
Rex poses the question: “How can a person spend seven years in any university studying anything, let alone human rights [with a minor in sexuality], and arrive at so preposterous a position?”
By “preposterous,” he means Arun Smith’s complacent self-anointing as supreme judge and executioner of inadmissible discourse within an allegedly “free speech zone.”
It’s a rhetorical question, for he well knows the answer to it. As Rex concludes, the episode is a “reminder that some universities are in the business more of promoting attitudes than liberating young minds, and more concerned with fleeting ‘correctness’ than lasting truth.”
My only quibble with that statement is the word “some.” I would say that the arts and humanities departments of nearly all Western universities are incubators for the production of ideologically rigid, intolerant clones, for which the smirkily self-righteous Arun Smith serves as the prototype.
Academia has been the intellectual equivalent of a closed union shop for decades, from which only the most critically independent minds emerge unscathed. The rest, the uncritically receptive — the Arun Smiths — are steeped in opiates provided by such radical left-wing gurus as Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon and Herbert Marcuse. All were Marxists; all believed westerners are the fountainhead of wickedness. And all believed that the omelet of “social justice” justified the breaking of many classically liberal eggs.
For a glimpse into the epicentre of Arun Smith’s mindset, consider the words of the “father of the New Left,” political theorist Herbert Marcuse. In a 1965 essay entitled Repressive Tolerance, Marcuse inspired generations of academics to embrace a principle of epistemic subversion. “The restoration of freedom of thought,” he argued, “may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions.”
By “restrictions,” Marcuse was thinking selectively. He meant that in order to inculcate students with (correct) socialist doctrine, it was permissible to impose a moratorium on conservative speech.
Marcuse’s words were taken to heart. Academia is pervaded by a dual message of social mission and cultural blame. Academics believe they have a mission to change society according to their utopian lights. The obstacles en route to social perfection — pesky conservatives, Christians, Zionists, the usual suspects — may not only be blamed for their cretinous views, they may justifiably be denounced or gagged.
Thus, clearing the way for “truth” is made to seem not only a normal perspective, but an admirable one. That’s why Arun Smith is not the least bit conflicted about his act of vandalism. As he put it on his Facebook page, “If everyone speaks freely, we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society.” As an activist, Arun Smith may be more bullish than his peers, but he is no outlier in the thinking process that guided his actions. For the condemnation of incorrect speech is a commonplace on Canadian campuses.
In October 2012, the conservative-leaning Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms released its 2012 Campus Freedom Index, based on a larger report, The state of campus free speech in 2012. Among the reported incidents: McGill University ordered a Jewish club to refrain from calling a social event “Israel: A Party” for its play on the word “apartheid”; the University of Calgary condoned the obstruction of pro-life displays on campus; and Carleton University — that’s Arun Smith’s home — had members of its pro-life club arrested, handcuffed and charged with “trespassing” for attempting to express their views in a provocative fashion.
Oh, and a few years ago, Simon Fraser University advertised for a professor with these qualifications: “extensive experience in academia, or as an activist” (my emphasis).
It’s the Arun Smiths of Canada whom many universities are looking to hire. The academy is now a natural professional home to left-wing activism. Those students who feel alienated by the prevailing doctrine feel marginalized and uncomfortable. They must achieve a balanced learning portfolio defensively, often in isolation.
For too long, university administrators have been silent or complicit in the promotion of illiberalism. Some soul-searching at the upper echelons of academia is in order. A gesture of good faith would be for Carleton to investigate whether Arun Smith should be charged with vandalism, and thereby subject him to the consequences he would experience in real life, something it is high time he learned about.