In his new book, one of Britain’s leading sociologists, Professor Frank Furedi, takes to task the growth of censorship and intolerance in British and American universities and makes the case for a radical rediscovery of academic freedom and rigour.
In the sixties, universities tended to nurture radicalism and intellectual experimentation. Today, they encourage censorship and intellectual conformism. Why has this happened? Why do universities, one-time bastions of enlightenment and open debate now appear so closed-minded and authoritarian?
This is the question that Professor Furedi tackles in his brilliant and timely new book, What’s Happened To The University? (Routledge, October 2016).
In what is perhaps the first serious, scholarly account of the transformation of institutions of higher education in the US and the UK into closed-minded and even intolerant places, Professor Furedi traces the changing attitudes to free speech and academic freedom over the past 50 years. He goes beyond the headlines to dig at the deeper cultural roots of such phenomena as ‘trigger warnings’, ‘safe spaces’ and ‘mandatory sensitivity training’.
He explores how students and academics, who once might have manned the intellectual barricades in the name of truth and knowledge, now promote conformism and censorship of difficult or ‘dangerous’ ideas.
As Professor Furedi notes, this is not just a problem for the academy — it is a problem for the whole of society.
Given nearly half of young people now attend university, the profound closed-mindedness of contemporary campus culture could soon pervade and potentially dominate the world beyond the university gate, he argues.
What’s Happened To The University? is not just a vital analysis: it’s also a passionate plea. It is a call, as Professor Furedi puts it, for universities to ‘re-educate themselves, and re-appropriate academic freedom as the foundation of their work’:
‘There is no better place to start than altering the relationship of the university with its students. The paradigm of the vulnerable student needs to be displaced by one that presumes students to be young adults who possess a capacity for embracing opportunities and creating a new world.
‘That’s another way of saying that we need to take students seriously and expect them to be able to act as adults who possess a capacity for moral autonomy and independent learning.’