British Universities Seen as Too Liberal, Intolerant

Kevin McCandless | March 22, 2017 | 12:22am EDT
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Oxford University colleges in Oxford, England. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

London ( – Staff at British universities have become too liberal and students too intolerant, a number of recent reports here have charged.

The Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think tank, asserted in a research paper released late last month that only 11 percent of those in academia identify themselves as conservative in their political orientation, in contrast to half of the general public.

Report author Noah Carl wrote that part of the explanation could be that academia attracts people who are open to new experiences – who tend to be more liberal – but also attributed the trend to discrimination and group-think.

“Universities are supposed to be places where perspectives are challenged, arguments are picked apart, and all ideas are up for discussion,” Carl said. “This ideal is very difficult to achieve when the vast majority of scholars adhere to the same ideological precepts.”

Historically, surveys carried out by the sociologist A.H. Halsey in 1964, 1976 and 1989 found that a sizeable minority of those in academia favored the Conservative Party, with the high point of 35 percent in the 1960s.

By contrast, a 2015 online survey of 1019 people with email addresses at British universities, conducted by Times Higher Education, found that 68 percent of respondents said they supported either the left-leaning Labour Party or the Green Party.

Meanwhile an annual survey of tolerance at British universities has shown that censorship is on the rise.

The annual Free Speech University Rankings, which examines the actions and policies of universities and student unions, found this year that out of 115 universities, 63.5 percent had mandated ”explicit restrictions on speech, including but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words.”

This marked a jump from 41 percent in 2015 in the number of universities engaged in chilling free speech or expression by issuing guidance on it.

The annual rankings were started by the online magazine spiked in 2015, and are supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which promotes civil liberties and democratic reform.

In response to this year’s findings, an organizer with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain said that she and her colleagues continued to face restrictions when they spoke on campuses.

The group campaigns against the influence of fundamentalist Islam and other religions on society.

Organizer Maryam Namazie said in one case, before a scheduled talk by the Council of Ex-Muslims in February the Islamic Society at Westminster University had urged students to contact the college’s secular advisor over their concerns.

Another council event, at the London School of Economics in January, had been restricted to only students and faculty, despite initially intended to be a public meeting.

British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell told British radio early this month he thought students were actually more rightwing than they had been in the 1970s.

Not only did he remember students as being more openly liberal back then, he said, they were much more activist about it.

However, he agreed that a certain chilling effect has crept into university life.

“I agree that there is a creeping trend of an inclination to restrict the opportunity of people to speak on campuses if their views are seen to be prejudiced, bigoted or right-wing,“ he said.

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