A tweet she’ll never be allowed to forget:
"Mark my words - we’re taking down the mural of white men in the uni senate room, even if I have to paint over it myself."
Emily Dawes, president of the student union at the University of Southampton, should turn her television and radio off for the next week or so, as the world remembers the fallen in the centenary of the Armistice. The mural depicted scholars and students who served King and country in a harrowing war of attrition. Where Dawes saw pale, male and stale men to be sacrificed for emancipatory identity politics, a more mature person (as should be expected of someone elected to represent twenty thousand students) would have understood and respected the epitaph.
Dawes’ crass comments may seem naïve, but they expressed a misandry that thrives on campus. Male rights campaigner Martin Daubney offered her a trip to the vast cemeteries in Flanders fields, but for the likes of Dawes, this is merely a battle lost in an ideological war that seems to be going their way. You can see this in her apology:
"Firstly, and most importantly, I would like to apologize for the offense and upset I have caused with what I have said. I never meant the disrespect to anyone past, present, and future. I had no intention of the tweet being taken literally, and upon reflection have realized how inappropriate it was. My intention was to promote strong, female leadership and not the eradication and disrespect of history."
Southampton University was quick to act, distancing itself from the remarks. While student unions are independent bodies, universities are at risk of reputational damage from such scandals. Indeed, the name of many a hallowed institution has been besmirched by the ideological idiocies of student union leaders. We should acknowledge that most young people who take on the role and responsibilities of a student representative do so for positive intent, and much good work is done to improve conditions on campus. But undoubtedly there are petty Napoleon characters who seek these positions of power, and who indulge in attention-grabbing statements and initiatives (this is the type of student that goes into politics or asserts a rapid career ascent in the public sector).
Universities, however, cannot absolve themselves from responsibility for the actions of bodies that they host. Vice-chancellors and deans take a collaborative approach, developing partnerships with student unions. This is fine in principle and hopefully works in practice too. But these are relationships to be managed carefully, because, by nature of their age and inexperience, student representatives may be more idealistic than realistic in their demands. However, the political group-think in universities is such that students, lecturers, and administrators are often on the same side.
For too long, academe has been dominated by leftist ideology, with whole faculties engaged in ‘grievance studies’ that reinforce simplistic notions of oppression and victimhood. But the problem of anti-conservative bias is endemic, reaching the top of the Ivory Towers. Everyone working or studying at a university is bombarded with virtue-signaling propaganda for favored identity groups from the principal’s office. Internal communiques are like an in-house Guardian, but unlike that politically-correct medium, one cannot choose to ignore institutional policy.
Identity politics are rife among students, and this is encouraged by universities. Never a day goes by without us being reminded of the ‘gender pay gap’ or the ‘Time’s Up’ campaign against sexual harassment. Of course, the intentions are good, but unwittingly the university is perpetuating the idea that women are victims, and therefore somebody must be victimizing them. Student unions take up the grievance baton and push their ‘woke’ orthodoxy about the patriarchy and male privilege. Inevitably, some of this expression is extreme.
Black History Month is promoted with vigor by the educational establishment. This is a well-intended and justifiable endeavor for a more inclusive historical narrative, but in the hands of student union leaders, it degrades into an aggressive quest to ‘decolonize’ curricula. This leads to campaigns to remove plaques, paintings or statues honoring white benefactors or famous alumni. The Rhodes episode at Oxford was merely the thin end of the wedge.
Universities fly the flag for the annual Pride celebrations, and rainbow lanyards are ubiquitous as heterosexual staff members display their support for the rights of gay colleagues. But tolerance is not shown for anyone with a traditional sexual morality, however carefully this is expressed. The removal of Lord Carey’s image from the ‘Wall of Fame’ at King’s College London, following student activists’ campaign against the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury for opposing gay marriage, was widely criticized in the media. As always happens with identity politics, complex social questions are reduced to a dichotomy of good or bad.
Transgenderism is the new progressive push, and universities enthuse over self-identification of gender. Suddenly feminists are under attack for insisting on female toilets and for refusing to accept a biological man in a dress as a woman. They are denounced as TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), and leading figures such as Germain Greer and Julie Bindel are ‘no-platformed’. Instead of facilitating debate on a controversy of far-reaching implications, universities have declared their support for the gender up-enders.
By pandering to agitators, universities have allowed challenging of sex discrimination to extend to blatant sexism, challenging of racial prejudice to extend to inverse racism, promotion of gay rights to extend to bigotry against Christians, and support for transgender staff or students to extend to undermining of women’s safety.
Consequently, universities are contributing to an emerging crisis of confidence in their status as high centers of learning. This is beginning to deter young people in the USA, where these trends normally begin. Detached from the real world, these institutes are perceived as brainwashing the younger generations with the subversive tropes of cultural Marxism. Why pay £9000 per annum to be immersed in the divisive resentment of a culture war?
Universities should return to the Enlightenment values of democracy, freedom of speech and equality before the law. And to honor rather than disparage those who died for our liberty in the mud of Passchendaele, Cambrin and the Ypres salient.