Students are now so powerful that university professors are afraid to teach controversial subjects for fear of being sacked, an academic conference was told on Thursday.
Professor Dennis Hayes, a co-founder of “Academics for Academic Freedom” said that universities were now ruled by a “culture of censorious quietude” where academics were not able to discuss “anything difficult.”
Speaking at the University of Buckingham yesterday, Prof Hayes added: “There’s an interesting turn today, it’s not that people are abusive, it’s just that they don’t say anything at all in universities.
“There’s so many things that could be discussed that you dare not say. And the consequences of arguing anything difficult is potentially that you could be sacked.
“These are mainstream views, of the state, institutions and particularly universities. Gay rights, feminism, gender fluidity, fear of Islamaphobia, the belief that we are all unwell, identity-based politics, are not views that challenge conventional thinking in the way that every university has in its charter.
‘These are conventional thinking. You dare not say you’re against gay marriage. Just discussing any of these things can get you in serious trouble if not the sack. What exists in universities is a culture of censorious quietude.
“Try arguing ‘there are boys and girls’… or as McEnroe has found out, that there are male and female tennis players.
“Things are simply not discussed. Academics and student… they go silent. They may even take delight in people who stand up and get beaten for their views.”
Discussing his decision to found a pro-free speech group in 2006, Prof Hayes added that he wanted academics to feel “free” to discuss controversial subjects on campus.
“The cry of offence, the fear of personal emotional hurt, is now the greatest threat to academic freedom,” he continued.
His warning came as the Universities Minister Jo Johnson warned that the erosion of freedom of speech on campus jeopardised Britain’s standing as an “intellectual powerhouse”.
“Freedom of speech “is a core legal duty for universities,” he added. “For a very long time there’s been an obligation on institutions to ensure there is genuinely a climate in which ideas can be challenged and debates can be genuinely entered into.
“When I wrote that letter to UUK it was out of concern that this duty that universities have was at risk from safe spaces and no platforming and I wanted to gently remind them that their whole purpose, or one of their purposes is to create a climate in which people should feel free to challenge, receive wisdom and challenge conventional opinion.
“If you don’t have that climate you’re really not going to expand the frontiers of understanding and we’re really not going to make progress as an intellectual powerhouse, I think we’ve got to stay true to our traditions of debate in that respect.”