Conformist Culture of Contemporary Higher Learning


There was once a time when university education sought to push the boundaries of knowledge and learning, and to expand the mind.

Even as recently as the 1960s, students took to task the received wisdom of their time, and rebelled, challenging those who held power and authority. Those very same students who pushed the boundaries at universities in the 1960s are now in charge of our institutions of higher education. Yet, intriguingly, our universities are no longer places where the received orthodoxy is challenged. Rather, they have become places where conformity is enforced.

Nick Cater, in his 2013 book, The Lucky Culture and the Rise of the Australian Ruling Class, states that:

“From the early 1970’s, as graduates began occupying positions of influence in the US, a paradox began to emerge: the journey of higher learning was intended to broaden horizons, yet the emerging intelligentsia had a narrower, more homogeneous outlook than their predecessors.”

This culture of conformity through higher education has continued to gather pace, and is reflected in the remarkably homogeneous views of those in West’s educated class. From issues spanning gender and sexuality, climate change and multiculturalism, there is little tolerance for deviation from now established, yet remarkably arbitrary, norms.

As Cater continues, the endorsed views from higher learning and our educated class are generally held and championed with an evangelical fervour. Apostasy will not be tolerated, and heretics are denounced as “bigots”, “racists”, “haters” and “deniers”, or diagnosed as having some kind of intellectual or moral impairment, or phobia.

Universities in the West are now invariably policed by student bodies, perpetually on the look out to quash and punish ‘crimes’ of thought or speech. While leftist revolutionaries and radical Islamists are welcomed with wide open arms on campus, conservative commentators are picketed by protesters, or blocked from appearing and speaking at all. At the modern Western university, Witch hunts, character assassinations, and flag burnings are par for the course.

Even leftist and so-called ‘progressive’ heroes of bygone eras are not welcome on campus if they even slightly deviate from the orthodoxy of the cult of higher learning. Germaine Greer is one person who comes to mind. Her crime? Stating that men who think they are women are still actually men.

Teachers are finding it ever more difficult to impart learning and engender free thinking in a culture in which suppression is rife, with its ‘trigger warnings’, ‘micro-aggressions’, and ‘safe spaces’ where the light of reason cannot illuminate.

Our culture and institutions of higher learning are in desperate need of reform – perhaps now more than any other time in history. Nothing short of a Copernican Revolution is required to revive universities as the places of open debate and free enquiry that they ought to be.

Photo by Mark Morgan Trinidad B