It was once understood that the purpose of college, among other things, was to expose an individual to the wonderful world of academia, a place with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. The pursuit of knowledge was best facilitated by differing viewpoints, and politics were either irrelevant to the discussion or a cause for debate. Unfortunately, in modern times, this is simply a fantasy.
Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, recently took to Twitter to announce his departure from academia. In a Twitter thread, Wright stated that because of the “ideological policing” prevalent in the sector he had “no confidence my hard work would actually translate into a job, given the politics involved in every step of the process of both hiring and tenure”. Referring to his “social media presence and popular essays”, he said that “close colleagues and collaborators of mine have also been questioned by other academics in my field about our association, and to avoid splash damage to their own careers have felt the need to publicly distance themselves from my views”.
Among Wright’s work is an opinion piece entitled ‘The Dangerous Denial of Sex’, where he speaks of the harm caused by transgender ideology to women, homosexual men and “especially feminine boys and masculine girls”. Similarly, Wright contributed to a piece titled ‘No One Is Born in ‘The Wrong Body’’. Both pieces were considered well-argued by readers. Wright was doing what science is supposed to do: attempt to seek the truth through research and hopefully help to explain the world we live in. But it’s hamartia – it’s fatal flaw – was that it deviated from the unquestionable political dogma plaguing academic circles and their representatives.
Such political biases in academia are not unheard of in Ireland. In December 2019, a Twitter account named ‘Irish Students Against Fascism’ (ISAF) appeared, claiming to be gathering information to expose those who were engaging in “far-right activity on Irish campuses and elsewhere.” The account amassed over a thousand followers, tweeting on several occasions open condemnations of those possessing right-leaning views, labelling them ‘far-right fascists’. The account was retweeted by the Union of Students Ireland as well as other left-wing organisations. The activists conducted several interviews over the phone with figures in Irish media, politics and student organisations. In early March of this year, however, The Burkean, an online publication run by Irish students, revealed that they were in fact behind the ISAF account. In their article entitled ‘Introducing: The Irish Antifa Project’ they state that “The account was set up with the intent of performing long-term investigative work into antifascism in Ireland, as well as its insidious and often blatant links with civic society, journalism and politics.” The article goes on further to state that “there is no institutional bias against young conservatives. There is an outright conspiracy against them.”
The subjects of The Burkean’s published exposes include:
- Lorna Fitzpatrick, Union of Students Ireland President;
- Michelle Byrne, former Union of Students Ireland Deputy President (until her resignation shortly after her expose);
- Robert Murtagh, National Union of Students in Northern Ireland President;
- Laura Beston, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union President;
- Sé Ó hEidhin, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union Ethnic Minority Officer;
- Roisin Nic Lochlainn, National University of Ireland, Galway Students’ Union Vice President;
- Síona Cahill, former Union of Students Ireland president.
It was made clear in each interview that the intended purpose of ISAF was to gather names and dox ‘far-right’ students on campus and approach employers and academic authorities with said info, with the ultimate goal of silencing them. Each individual named above endorsed this. When ISAF even suggested bugging the accommodation of ‘suspect’ students, Byrne personally supported this endeavour.
These findings are the partisan stance of every Irish Students’ Union taken to its logical conclusion. Despite campaigns to make SU’s take a neutral stance on political issues (e.g., UCD’s ‘Vote Yes for Neutral’ campaign), these efforts have largely been in vain. Additionally, there is no obvious mechanism in place for leaving the Student’s Union. This means that all students, whether in agreement with their SU’s stance or not, are being spoken for by virtue of it being the Students’ Union. A strong feeling of alienation emerges among those with opposing views, who feel as if their voices aren’t worth considering. As a result, conservative students feel “imprisoned by liberals”, and utterly ostracised.
The rise of ‘No Platforming’ across campuses disproportionately affects right-leaning students, with their views branded as ‘dangerous’ and their voices in need of silencing. Moreover, declaring certain opinions as objectively ‘dangerous’ and in need of banning is essentially stating that people can’t be trusted to decide what is and is not best for them on their own. Not only is this an insult to intelligence and a complete denial of agency, it promotes a disconcerting hypothetical hierarchy – one set of people who get to determine what ideas and opinions the rest of us are allowed to hear. Additionally, this practice of political bias can undermine the credibility of studies undertaken, as it leaves researchers possibly more susceptible to confirmation bias – the act of purposely seeking out information which confirms already held beliefs. This is completely antithetical to the purpose of academia.
The notion of diversity on college campuses seems to include everything except that of political thought. One side leans perpetually heavier than the other, even in cases when a completely neutral stance would be fairer. It is clear that many of those who fight supposed ‘anti-fascism’ are not entirely malicious, they are simply the product of a positive feedback loop on college campuses. The lack of dissenting opinions helps foster an echo chamber, further reinforcing the seemingly indisputable nature of their beliefs. This is evident from the work by The Burkean, in so far as the willingness of those being interviewed to show their approval for the proposed dirty tactics of ‘Irish Students Against Fascism’. Their naivety is a clear indictment of third level institutes in Ireland, and is unfortunately just a mirror image of the levels of indoctrination in colleges and universities throughout the West.