• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author
Article

Academics need courage, not anonymity

The first culture war

Tragic that love of country is now off the syllabus

The politics of fear

Why students feel so vulnerable

Why we shouldn’t fear being alone

The politicisation of identity

Why I’m sceptical about stories exposing Russian antics

Who’s guiding our children?

How ‘gender neutrality’ could screw up the next generation

The EU’s shameful crusade against Hungary

The toxic legacy of parent shaming – and the damage it does to children

Why Sweden’s populist moment matters

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

The great jerk rice debate (what a waste of time!)

Identity politics has conquered the Westminster bubble

Why Labour has a problem with Jews

The campus culture of fear and its costs

The paradox of our safety addiction

How Project Fear wants us all to panic over Brexit

The flight of the elites from the nation state

Now they even want to racialise the World Cup

The mainstreaming of porn

Hungary: The bad boy of the EU

Universities’ risk aversion is hampering intellectual progress

A war that begins in the nursery

Curse of helicopter parenting

Grenfell Tower fire a year on

‘The fear of populism is really a fear of the masses’

Gyáva lett a nyugati ember – Frank Furedi a Mandinernek

Who will speak for the European working class?

1968: The birth of the new conformism

El miedo a vivir con nosotros mismos o la sociedad medicalizada

The truth about Karl Marx

The cultural appropriation police are turning fried chicken, dreadlocks and prom dresses into a race

“La decadencia de Occidente” de Spengler: un siglo de pesimismo cultural

Loneliness can’t be ‘cured’. We must learn to find value in solitude

La apoteosis de la victimización

Orban’s victory: Another blow to the EU oligarchy

The myth of Cambridge Analytica’s power

A culture of bullying? Grow up

Italy has dealt a blow to the EU

Why the people must be sovereign

Stop this moral crusade against circumcision

Don’t blame the young for thinking JFK’s assassination sparked WWI - they’ve been tragically failed

Why they love baiting the Russian bear

My encounter with George Soros’s bright-eyed missionaries left me deeply disturbed

Turning the Army into a Safe Space

Switch off your kids’ phones and let them play outside

No patrimony

The fantasy of the ‘youthquake’

A liberal defence of populism

Turning childhood into a mental illness

The hidden history of identity politics

The meaninglessness of Charles Manson

The rise of duty-free politics

You can’t fine your way to free speech

The long plight of the right on campus

Why cheating has become the norm

Why I wrote a radical democratic defence of populism

Whiteness: a nonsense category

A radical life

Taking out a patent on culture

Exam stress is not a mental illness

Don’t play with fire

A culture war masquerading as a youthquake

Generational revenge: the politics of ageism

Populism on the ropes? Don’t be so sure

A revolt against deference

Masood’s motives? We may never know

Does Erdogan have a right to hold rallies in Europe?

Nincs szükség egy európai transznacionális birodalomra

The Therapeutic University

Universities blame others for plagiarism. They need to look at themselves

‘Just like Hitler’: The diminishing of the Holocaust

If you need a ‘detention director’ in your school you might be getting discipline wrong

There IS an alternative

RIP Zygmunt Bauman

Campuses are breaking apart into ‘safe spaces’

Why Millennials are so fragile

2016: A war of words against the people

Interview: ‘Despite fear, we should focus on the positives’

Standing up to the new school of anti-Semitism

Italian revolt

Populism: a defence

Fidel Castro: A tragic cold war figure

Free speech is at grave risk on university campuses

My Leonard Cohen

How Trump triumphed in the battle for legitimacy

Cast out for criticising PC: the 21st-century inquisition

The rise of safe space segregation

Bookish fools

Universities need to stop treating their students like children

Neem het maar aan van een Dylanfan: de Nobelprijs verdient hij niet

The Orwellian University

I love Dylan, but he shouldn’t get the Nobel Prize

Clownpocalypse: urban legends in the internet age

Workload is a problem in schools because of the ‘McDonaldisation’ of education

Too many academics are now censoring themselves

Walking out of consent classes… What’s wrong with ‘snowflake’ students these days?

Is this the end of the university as we know it?

There was a time when freshers’ week at university was about drinking, dancing and making new friends. This year, it increasingly resembles an induction course into a seminary or a convent. Forget about social experimentation or discovering who you are or who you want to be, freshers’ week now serves as a laboratory for social engineering.

As I write, I discover that King’s College London is hosting an “Exploring Emotional Intelligence” workshop for the aspirant emotionally correct student. For those who want something a bit stronger, freshers arriving at Oxford this week will be made to attend a controversial “consent class”, which teaches students not to sexually assault others. The same courses will be reportedly run at Cambridge on an opt-out basis. Add to this the bewildering variety of the other workshops on sexuality, alcohol consumption, drugs, racism, misogyny and religious intolerance being run at other universities up and down the country, and you are left asking why aren’t undergraduates being trusted to work things out for themselves any more?

This is not the university experience I had when I went to McGill University in Montreal in the late Sixties. Thankfully, we did not have to go to workshops of this nature. There were no sanctimonious officials instructing us how to behave. It was assumed we’d simply learn to make our own way, whereas today students are “treated like dumb simpletons”, as one undergraduate put it to me. She resented the fact that it was all one-way preaching and, as an ageing sociology professor, I can’t help thinking that “raising awareness” has become just another name for laying down the party line.

The climate of freedom, tolerance and experimentation that I loved about universities, when I started teaching 40 years ago, has given way to an illiberal and preachy atmosphere. When I expressed concern about the authoritarian impulses behind the proliferation of these workshops, a sneering critic tweeted: “Frank Furedi thinks it is ‘social engineering’ to remind students not to rape people”. Evidently only potential rapists and academic heretics would have the gall to question the purpose of a mandatory workshop on sexual consent.

My decision to write What’s Happened to the University? – published this month – emerged during the course of a series of lectures I gave on the topic of free speech across Europe at a time when universities were becoming more famous for introducing “safe spaces” and “no-platforming” than for rigorous and open debate. I wanted to challenge the casual manner with which the freedom of speech was being treated in everyday encounters on campuses. During the discussions that followed, I noted that many of the students appeared more passionate about limiting the freedom of speech than in defending it. Worryingly, unlike past generations, their youthful idealism expressed itself in the certainty that freedom needed to be curbed, rather than extended.

Some warned me, for example, that if people had an opportunity to debate the rights and wrongs of multiculturalism, it would inevitably promote “Islamophobia” or “xenophobia”. What also struck me as distressing was that those students who did possess an open-minded and tolerant attitude stayed silent and told me afterwards that they felt awkward about expressing their views. After a lecture at Tilburg University, a young Dutch student told me that she now constantly censors herself. “I talk a different language in the classroom than I do with family and friends,” she confided.

Similarly, after another lecture at the University of Kent last year, a couple of undergraduates hesitantly approached me for some advice. They were disturbed by their anxiety to openly question things. They wanted to find their voice. One student, who objected to the idea of a “safe spaces”, told me that she had been denounced for being insensitive to the well-being of other students. She now no longer bothers to openly express her opinion as, she says, “I don’t want to be the class pariah”.

Unfortunately, this hesitancy is the outcome of a culture that now portrays intolerance as a positive virtue. Sadly, even academics – especially junior members of staff are afflicted by it. Recently, I received an email from a junior member of staff who poured her heart out about openly supporting Brexit.  “I was contemplating leaving and finding a new career,” she wrote, since she increasingly felt “like an outcast”. Her anxiety about expressing a controversial view is shared by far too many of her peers. One sociology lecturer told me that he felt ashamed when he couldn’t find the words to counter the claim made by one of his Muslim students that “the Jews run all the media”. He feared that his words would be misinterpreted as an example of Islamophobia.

Of course, it is tempting to blame censorious students for curbing free speech on campuses. While some critics dub them as fragile snowflakes who can’t handle criticism, I would argue that it is not the new cohort of undergraduates who are responsible for the climate of sanctimony prevailing in campuses, but university authorities and older students who have internalised the paternalistic ethos of higher education. The old adage of “not in front of the children” has been converted into the project of infantilising those now coming through our doors

Arguing the need for safe spaces and trigger warnings is, I believe, based on the ill-founded premise that students’ mental health depends on protecting them from offensive words and disturbing ideas. Whether it is a student telling you that they are “too stressed” to complete an assignment or the growing number of students demanding concessions from exam boards during the weeks leading up to exams for a constantly expanding range of conditions – it is clear this is a generation who have been socialised to interpret their problems through the language of psychology.

Practices associated with helicopter parenting, it seems, have now been absorbed by higher education and created an environment where it is simply acceptable to treat students as children rather than as young adults. The provision of chill-out room, de-stressing puppy rooms and soft-toys for British undergraduates anxious about their exams shows that it is OK for students to be treated as toddlers in a nursery.

During recent decades, parenting practices have become precautionary to the point where they restrict the freedom of children and discourage young people from taking risks and acting independently. On open days at universities there are now sometimes more parents than young would-be applicants sitting in the lecture hall. Not so long ago, students understood that they risked social death if they were seen with their parents on campus. Today, some parents forget that the university is not a school and take it upon themselves to demand that their child’s essay mark should be raised.

This micro-management of students’ personal life, which starts at home and is now being continued by our universities, is inhibiting their ability to acquire the habit of independence and make the transition to forms of behaviour associated with the exercise of autonomy. And yet, cultivating the habit of independence of thought and intellectual experimentation of young people is fundamental to the vocation of the university. Which is why universities now must re-educate themselves and learn to take tolerance and freedom of thought seriously once more.

Our students need to be treated as young men and women, and not as biologically mature children. We need to trust students to act as people who possess a capacity for making responsible choices. We should trust them to let rip on freshers’ week.  Because if they are not given an opportunity to express themselves freely as students today, how can we expect them to stand up for a free society tomorrow?

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