As controversies flood university campuses, a key question remains. How on earth did we get here?
There are several reasons, one that’s particularly ironic — universities have been fostering extreme ideologies for many years. These ideas are generating greater and greater consequences both inside and outside campuses. Look at the self-righteous behaviour of York’s student unions. Look at the embarrassing charges made against some of York’s faculty over an alleged act of vandalism. These examples and others are bringing this ongoing conundrum into the spotlight.
And yet, some universities — including York — are frantically backpedaling by giving the student unions and others a firm response to their actions, even though York is partially responsible. The university is trying to undo what it has been doing for years. York has waged a war against itself. It is attacking the various ideologies and schools of thought that some of its faculty have been promoting with impunity for years — an autoimmune disease has infected York.
Some of the trendy ideologies taught at universities like York, cram and diminish the complexities and ambiguities of human experience. Students learn only one side and one narrative. These ideas are then misinterpreted as being absolute and all-encompassing, to the detriment of individual expression and thought. Essentially, the ideas morph into a delusional form of idolatry.
This creates a new belief system, where anything that confirms or aligns with a set ideology becomes good. Anything that conflicts with or challenges a set ideology becomes bad. And if you are deemed wrong by the enlightened keepers of justice and equality, be ready for the defamatory labels coming your way.
This type of adherence to a monolithic set of prescribed ideas is concerning, especially when you consider that the aim of a university should be education, not indoctrination. Another strange thing is that the advocates for such ideas seem to apply the “isms” to just about everything. The result? A hall of mirrors, a single-lens perspective that distorts and warps reality; things become black and white and either/or, where nobody can see the gray or even the truth.
I’ve seen this collective phenomenon in several classes, even ones that don’t deal with politics or current topics. For example, I had a Shakespeare class where the theories and “isms” overrode the text, where the elusive craft and insights of the plays became obsolete. The test and essay questions dealt with applying the theory instead of coming to a personal understanding of the material. The class was also a clear example of presentism.
A good education should be challenging, not one that expects students to think in a preordained way. Nor should students have to play to the professor’s perspective to get a good grade.
Teachers who wish to question the dogmas are trapped between the strong views of students and the frequent lack of support from the administration, especially if they lack stable, long-term contracts. Any deviance from the status quo could result in a potential onslaught of censorship, cancellation, and controversy.
Students are also getting squeezed. At the very minimum, many workplaces require undergraduate degrees for potential positions. To get there, students spend four years and thousands of dollars, only to end up with a sub-par education.
There is no easy solution; these ideas are now ingrained into the institution. If lucky, it will take years for this predicament to come undone.
Universities must grapple with this reality, including York: any academic institution is liable for the actions of its students when both groups share similar ideological frameworks. Unless York examines its role in fostering these ideologies, its response remains futile.
York and other universities must also protect the independence of students, professors, and community members who fairly criticize the current orthodoxy.
A general hope lies in the fact that these unfortunate events at York received a fair amount of backlash. This may lead to greater public and academic awareness of these ideological practices.
But if nothing changes, don’t be surprised. There will be more embarrassment at university campuses for years to come.