When will the press realise SU weirdos don’t represent normal students?

Free Speech isn’t under threat

“Free Speech is under growing threat at British universities” drones the front page of The Times today [18/1/2016]. They report that over the last three years, student unions have put 148 bans in place. Everything from Charlie Hebdo to the knuckleheads in the London School of Economics rugby club have had their marquees shut down.

This comes off the back of analysis of student union and administrators’ policies at 115 universities, conducted by Spiked magazine. They found out a load of shit you already know: there a lot of feminists out there who don’t like Robin Thicke, there are a lot of feminists out there who don’t like Germaine Greer, there are a lot of feminists out there who don’t like page 3 of The Sun and there are even some feminists who don’t like all three of those things at the same time!

Apparently nothing will ever teach the rest of the country that 90 per cent of students pass through uni without engaging with or thinking about politics. It says nothing to them about their lives, which are marked by apathy, the desire to have a good time, the usual foreground anxieties about sex and essay deadlines – and radiating in the background, the thought “how do I get a job out of this?” They’re not worrying about whether things their SU’s do are “illiberal” or not.

The Times story, which is soaked in the language of crisis – “growing threat” “serious restrictions” “high levels of intolerance” – was written by Greg Hurst, the paper’s Education Editor. Now I don’t know for sure if I’m right, but judging by Greg’s Twitter profile pic, he probably went to university a very, very long time ago:

This is Greg

This is Greg

What’s happening at UK universities right now is what’s happened on and off since the early sixties: a small noisy fringe, radical in style but never in substance, make a lot of noise and people like Greg give them the attention they so desperately crave by writing over the top articles about them.

The abstract concept of free speech is of interest to your pink hair and piercings feminists, your virginal meninists – in short it’s of interest to weirdos and the Oxbridge lot. The kind of people who start up in the pub about Gamergate while you sit there and think I could be back home, sticking my head in the oven, rather than having to listen to this.

Maybe there is a sadness to UK universities becoming more sheltered, more suppressive. But I can’t shake the feeling that most of these bans are meaningless, a form of superficial posturing engineered to make commentators with names like “Sir Anthony Sheldon” lose their minds in newspapers. Let the SU’s feel morally superior – they’re not going to win any arguments any time soon. They’re not converting people by silencing them.