Beside the University of Western Australia’s Great Court and reflecting pool is a larger-than-life-sized bust of Socrates, who gave his life in the pursuit of truth and free inquiry.
Today the university might, as a matter of common decency, remove the bust and replace it with some character more befitting its present ethos.
Suggested new mascot for the
University of Western Australia:
the ever so ‘umble Uriah Heep.
Its practice of censoring uncomfortable or unfashionable ideas began in 2015, when the university cancelled the contract for an environmental policy centre that was to be based on the methodology of controversial academic Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, after what was described as a “passionate emotional reaction” to the plan (Lomborg argues human activity will not affect global warming).
Lomborg goes against the Paris consensus regarding man-made global warming, something that students should evidently not be allowed to hear or think about, or conduct experiments to test.
The Federal Government had pledged to contribute $4 million to the Consensus Centre, a think tank that was to use methods similar to those used by Dr Lomborg’s Copenhagen Centre.
In a statement at the time, then Vice-Chancellor Paul Johnson said the creation of the centre had attracted “mixed reactions” from staff, students and the general public.
“The scale of the strong and passionate emotional reaction was one that the university did not predict,” he said.
“I have met and talked to staff, students and members of the public to hear their views, and to explain how the centre will operate within the university, the type of economic analysis it will undertake, and to correct many mistruths and misunderstandings about the centre.
“I have stated many times that it is not a centre to study climate change, that the university was not providing any direct funding to the centre, and that Bjorn Lomborg would not be involved in its day-to-day operations.”
The “passionate emotional reaction” – of unqualified people – came from fear that the findings of the centre might contradict received wisdom, and perhaps even question the basis or existence of climate change.
Just when did “passionate emotional reaction” have anything to do with science? Given that modern science has been built on questioning, it was a shameful episode, without dignity, integrity or moral courage.
We now know that this was not a one-off exercise in censoring ideas. Two other conservative visitors, Canadian journalist Lauren Southern and Preacher Stefan Molyneux were similarly denied a forum there on the basis of their opinions (Southern believes anti-white movements such as Black Lives Matter are actually harming blacks in the United States).
Recently, following protests by a vocal minority, the university refused to allow world-famous American endocrinologist Dr Quentin van Meter to speak at a function there that had been booked by a member of the Australian Family Association. Dr van Meter believes, on the basis of his many years of clinical experience in paediatric endocrinology, that the transgender movement is based on ideology and has no scientific basis.
After first reluctantly permitting the booking, the university went back on its word in the face of organised protests and cancelled it. This, of course, tended to lend weight to his argument that the transgender issue was ideological, not scientific. Scientists don’t need to ban opinions, which can, if they are wrong, be refuted by empirical experiment and evidence. Einstein made this point when the Nazis attacked “Jewish” physics.
Both before and after it decided to cancel the booking, the university took the extraordinary – and presumably not inexpensive – step of circulating all staff and students with letters explaining its behaviour. The first letter stated feebly that the lecture, despite being perhaps “hurtful” and “offensive” (it was not explicitly stated that those terms described this lecture, but there was a dog-whistle to that effect), would go ahead in the interests of free speech.
It continued: “The university considers that cancellation of the Australian Family Association event would create an undesirable precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus.”
Note the insertion of the totally unnecessary word “objectionable”. If any of the dear little snowflakes thought they were going to be “hurt” by what Dr van Meter said, they were under no compulsion to attend; or they might, like Socrates, let the truth emerge from argument.
This first letter continued: “[Cancellation] would also give rise to arguments that the values we hold are supported by intolerant and repressive policies against those who do not share those values.”
The second letter, sent out shortly after the decision was made to ban the lecture, was a piece of immaculate bureaucratese: “We have been advised that the risk surrounding the event has been elevated to a higher level.”
In other words, the university was caving in to bullying and intimidation. If necessary, the university, which has its own security guards, could have hired police for the night.
The university allowed threats by leftist students to silence a widely admired international doctor and scholar speaking on his own subject – part of the left’s overarching project to silence all dissident voices.
The letter claimed: “The freedom of expression of the Australian Family Association’s invited speakers did not oblige the university to provide them with a facility within which they could express their opinions.
“Nevertheless, the venue was booked through the university by an alumnus of the university. A denial of access to the facility would be based on the opinions of these speakers and the impact of the expression of those opinions on members of the university community. The question for the university is whether it should deny access.” (emphasis added)
And finally, emphasising a culture of infantilisation: “If this has raised any issues for you, we encourage you to seek out support.”
It was signed by the Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater.
The university is siding with the enemies of the free mind and the anti-rationalists who regard the threat – and perhaps the actuality – of thuggery as a legitimate political weapon. Bullying and bigotry wins. Socrates was made to drink the hemlock because his opinions were unpopular.
Perhaps the bust of Socrates surveying the Great Court could be replaced with one of Uriah Heep, Dickens’ great paragon of cringing hypocrisy from David Copperfield.