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University needs to hurt Students should consent to be harmed

Don't ask Darth Vader (JOAQUIN SARMIENTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Don't ask Darth Vader (JOAQUIN SARMIENTO/AFP via Getty Images)


August 12, 2022   8 mins

Reality comes in degrees, but the law must draw clear lines. English law permits the abortion of healthy foetuses up to 24 weeks after conception — but no later. It also lets you drive on your 17th birthday — but not a day before. Obviously one day makes little real difference, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Yet as Kant might have said: that’s all very well in practice — but does it work in theory?

This question is neither entirely impractical nor entirely a joke: knowing why you draw a line here and not there makes it more defensible than an arbitrary one. The Lord originally demanded 50 righteous men from Sodom as the price for sparing the city. By methods that are wearily familiar to any parent who’s been in arguments over bedtime, Abraham whittled Him down to 10. (“Fifty, Lord? But then why not 45?.” “Ok, 45.” “Thank you, Lord. But then why not 40?” Etc.) You suspect that if the Lord had chosen 50 for a reason, He would have stuck to it — not that it made much difference in this case; not to Sodom.

The issue continues to concern the central question of political life, namely whether, and if so when and how, the state may interfere with you. In Iran and North Korea the answer is: quite a lot. But anyone who is liberal, in the broad sense of preferring not to live in either a medieval theocracy or a maximum-security prison, will sympathise with J. S. Mill’s harm principle: “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”

In Britain, this principle leaves everything to play for. After all, almost anything risks some harm to some others.

The consequent possibility, that liberalism gets eroded from within, is not an idle fantasy. Very recently, an ex-army veteran was arrested for tweeting a transgender pride flag in the shape of a swastika because, the police said, “someone has been caused anxiety by [his] post”. Of course, that statement itself will also create plenty of anxiety; so presumably Hampshire Police should now arrest themselves. Indeed their interpretation of “harm” is so loose that probably the only person Mill’s doctrine could protect is Bartleby the scrivener, the infamous Wall Street clerk who spent all day staring out of his office window at a brick wall, and whose mild but unfailing response to any request to do anything, ever, was: “I would prefer not to.”

Setting aside that demented reading of it, any actual application of Mill’s rule must therefore draw a principled line between the harms that do, and those that do not, fall under its scope; at least, it had better be principled if we want to avoid the conceptual creep that did for Sodom and now looks like doing for us.

I cannot completely resolve this; but there is a principle that settles things partially, but enough to be useful: namely, consent. This is not new: some philosophers have suggested that Mill had it in mind all along. That what Mill meant, or what he should have said, was: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others who do not consent to it.” In other words, the state may not interfere to prevent consensual harm to anyone. Note this allows that there are other areas where it also may not interfere, for instance where the “harm” is non-consensual but trivial — like asking a policeman whether his horse is gay, a question to which neither the policeman, nor presumably the horse, ever consented.

To see what difference this makes, let us return to 1987, when the Obscene Publications Squad acquired a videotape of sado-masochistic acts among consenting men. At one point a man hammered another man’s foreskin into a block of wood before cutting his (the hammeree’s) penis with a scalpel. Further videos came to light; and soon 16 police forces across the country found themselves with nothing better to do than to join in the hunt for the stars of these home videos, spending hundreds of hours poring over the 400 tapes that they eventually seized. Operation Spanner had begun.

The painstaking work eventually came good, and in late 1989, 16 men stood trial at the Old Bailey on charges including actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding, aiding and abetting assaults against themselves, and bestiality. Bestiality aside, the defence’s main argument was not that these things didn’t happen, but that they happened with the consent of those involved; and, they argued, the law cannot stop consenting adults from doing what they want.

But the House of Lords decided that it can. Where A wounds or assaults B, the Lords said, occasioning him actual bodily harm in the course of a sado-masochistic encounter, the prosecution does not have to prove lack of consent on the part of B before they can establish A’s guilt under section 20 or section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. In short, consent is not a defence.

But in a state that respected Mill’s principle, in the form that I am recommending, it would have been. And it should have been, too.

Doubtless Cornwall crossed a line plucking out Gloucester’s eyes; ditto Darth Vader vis-a-vis Luke’s hand. But should we imprison every surgeon who removes an organ or amputates a limb? The law rightly prosecutes anyone who knocks you unconscious on the street; should it also condemn every boxer who wins on a KO? For what is the difference? No magic power puts boxing rings and operating theatres outside the reach of the law; but there is actual or presumed consent.

Nor is consent an arbitrary line. Who is better placed than an adult risking injury to determine whether the potential or actual benefits make it worthwhile? No ethicist, politician or judge could have what Hayek might have called the “local knowledge” that you have.

This proposed interpretation of Mill’s formula also applies to others who are neither surgeons nor boxers nor (typically) sado-masochists: I mean, those who study and work in our universities. Anyone who has been near one of these in recent years must have noticed that it is nowadays nearly impossible to conduct an open, honest debate there about, say, the integration of illiberal religious values, or transgender issues and women’s rights. One driver of this process has been the inflation of harm: the idea that by even discussing certain issues — even giving the impression that they are “up for discussion” — you are harming an audience whose identity thereby feels threatened.

Take the case of Lisa Keogh, then a 29-year-old law student at Abertay University, who in 2021 found herself under investigation for asserting that women have vaginas and that “the difference in physical strength of men versus women is a fact”. Younger classmates reported her for making “offensive” and “discriminatory” comments; these prompted a formal investigation into her conduct.

Or again, Imperial College’s harassment and discrimination policy proscribes pretty much anything that anyone might find offensive — citing jokes about religious beliefs and rituals as an example. In effect, Imperial College is reinstating blasphemy laws. It is also frustrating the aim of university teaching, particularly in my own field, where shocking people out of deeply-held beliefs, or at least into critical reflection upon them, is really the point. Jokes can be most effective in this connection, as anyone who has left a religion themselves probably knows, as too will anyone who appreciates David Hume’s sardonic asides on the matter, let alone the more pointed and vicious rhetoric of Gibbon or Voltaire, to say nothing of Life of Brian, The Book of Mormon or Jesus and Mo.

Again: Steven Greer, a human rights scholar with an outstanding international reputation, had for 15 years up to 2020 been teaching a human rights course at Bristol. Because Greer was critical of Sharia Law, Bristol Islamic Society complained, writing in a petition that the university should not permit a Professor to mention the Charlie Hebdo massacre in connection with Islam’s stance on free speech. Bristol conducted an eight-month inquiry before clearing Greer of all charges. But because of his teaching, he was subject to a social media campaign that made him fear for his life. On top of that, Bristol authorities restructured Greer’s course so as to make it, in their words, “respectful” of the “sensitivities” of the students on it.

Again: a Times investigation this week has found that universities have been removing books from syllabuses, or making them optional, because of their disturbing content. Essex University, for instance, has permanently removed The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery, from its “Beginning the Novel” module, for its graphic depictions of slavery.

But why should anything other than its intellectual value be relevant to whether a book or article is compulsory or even available for study in a course? And what gives university administrators the right to decide that the “harm” to students that these books supposedly risk outweighs the intellectual benefits that they would undoubtedly confer upon them?

All these cases arise because actors with malicious motives — shutting people up — have manipulated others with more benign motives: administrators wishing to protect students from “harm”. But who gets to decide what counts as acceptable or unacceptable levels of harm? Well, perhaps it should depend on two things: the purpose of the university and the students’ own judgments, as expressed through their voluntary consent.

One practical implementation of this idea could be achieved in two steps. First, at the start of a course, students consent to the risk of exposure to ideas that are legally expressed in ways that they find shocking, disturbing or offensive; and that they understand that by continuing with the course they are implicitly renewing this consent. Consent may be withdrawn at any time by withdrawing from the university. Signing up for a university education would be the intellectual equivalent of stepping into a boxing ring.

Second, any complaint against any lecturer’s or student’s speech would need to show that it failed one of two tests: Is the speech legal? And did the audience consent? If the answer to both is yes, the complaint is immediately and automatically dismissed.

Three clarifications. First, the waiver would not cover illegal speech. For instance, bullying directed at individuals in the classroom might constitute illegal harassment. Nobody is being given permission to direct tirades against students, to defame anyone, to speak in contempt of court, and so on.

Second, the waiver covers expression of ideas, but not speech that directly impaired the functioning of the university, for instance publicising confidential information; nor would it preclude regulation of the time, place and manner of speech. (You couldn’t bring a megaphone into an exam hall.) Nobody would be consenting to any of that.

Third, the proposal does not give anyone a power of veto. A student who withdraws consent is not preventing any teacher or fellow student from saying or hearing anything “offensive”, but rather excluding themselves from a university where the “offensive” speech will happen anyway. I often hear people say: “If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one”; whatever you think of that, it is surely at least as reasonable for a professor to say: “If you don’t like my lectures, don’t attend them.” Consenting adults should be free to discuss Hume or vaginas or Sharia Law, or anything else. If you don’t like it, don’t join in.

The same goes for reading lists. While there may still be a case for specific trigger warnings for students with PTSD, there would be no case for making any text optional, or taking it off the course, just because it contains material that students might find offensive. At any rate, no student who claimed to be — or even was — shocked and offended by a graphic depiction of slavery, could complain about having to read one; that is what they signed up for. Admittedly, this would not address the incentive to virtue signal; but that is a problem in every corporate environment.

But the basic idea may also have broader applications. For instance, the Online Safety Bill aims to prevent “online harms” by making platforms such as YouTube liable for the harms suffered by users. Replacing “harm” in the Bill with “non-consensual harm” could liberalise it in a helpful way: it could then be a defence, for instance, if the platform could prove that on joining, the user had ticked a box consenting to the risk of seeing distressing material. On the other hand, the Online Safety Bill is so profoundly chilling that to tinker with it may be to miss the point: there is a strong case that the only meaningful way to “liberalise” it would be to scrap it altogether.

Returning to universities, nobody is proposing to scrap them altogether; our Higher Education institutions are remediable and worth fighting for. Still, this proposal won’t solve much by itself. As I have written before, universities should also adopt institutional neutrality, scrap all ideological training for staff or students, institute secret voting at all decision-making levels and offer free-speech induction for incoming students, essentially saying: you can say what you like here, and so can anyone else; this is a good idea and you need to get used to it.

All this could usefully be written into the guidance on the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill currently going through Parliament. One effect would be to remind Vice Chancellors in England and Wales, and the people advising them, that the whole point of universities is intellectual inquiry and the dissemination of its fruits; and that if this is your aim, then nothing matters more than free speech and academic freedom. What is tragic, and absurd, is that they of all people so obviously need reminding of it in the first place.


Arif Ahmed is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and a campaigner for free speech


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Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 year ago

Thank you. Excellent read.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago

One aspect that also contributed was the introduction of tuition fees for UK universities in 1998. It had the effect of turning students into customers.

Now add wokeness to the mix and you have a generation of angry customers who demand a certain product, while hating the shop and process that produces it.

Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

One aspect that also contributed was the introduction of tuition fees for UK universities in 1998. It had the effect of turning students into customers.

Yes! But the right generally refuses to acknowledge that its user-pays policies have helped install the tyranny of wokeism in universities throughout the Anglosphere.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ludwig van Earwig
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Exactly, and unusually we can thank the hopeless John Major Esq, and not the wretched Tony Blair for this particular fiasco.

mark taha
mark taha
1 year ago

Blair brought in fees.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  mark taha

Good point, I had forgotten that, thank you.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago

I am not American, but were tuition fees always part of USA university education?
If so, they have nothing (or little) to do with woke ideology.
Which is just neo-Marxism hiding behind different label.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

I do not think it has anything to do with the students. I think it all originates with and is encouraged by the academics who set the agenda. Students instinctively know what the need to to win approval and gain status
I assure you that neither the universities not their staff give a toss what students think or that they are paying ÂŁ9k a year, often for courses that are not remotely worth that amount. The universities in the meantime complain ÂŁ9k is not enough and switch their focus to foreign students while continuing to squander millions

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 year ago

There was an article here by Kristina Murkett on this subject just recently and she clearly blamed the academics. I think she’s right, based on my experience with my daughters, their friends and other student age relatives. They are robust and more than able, not to say eager, to take on difficult subjects. I suspect that the academics are too easily influenced by a small number of noisy people.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Elliott
Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

The tail wags the dog.

David Ganz
David Ganz
1 year ago

Less the academics, more the managers who are paid far more, not least to protect university reputations. Blaming left wing academics is easy, but unfair.

Steve Looney
Steve Looney
1 year ago
Reply to  David Ganz

Absolutely! A failure of courage in leadership.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Yes, because when fees were paid in full there were no right-on students banging on about left-wing politics whilst being fed from the teat of the state.

ke Cronin
ke Cronin
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

I love the essays on UnHerd – even if they inflict harm on my own beliefs. I read an interesting article that student sensitivity is an outcome of helicopter parenting where a child is never to be triggered. Of course the outcome is that the child is what the parents tried to prevent – always anxious. In the US, the children in public schools are just cannon fodder for the unions to advance their own agenda. My brother was a union rep. In his many years of doing so, concern for the ‘children’s welfare’ never crossed his lips. His job was to prevent the disciplining of a teacher. Our universities are as infected as the UK whether private or public. Canada is even worse. My nephew is in ROTC. A buddy of his went to a very prestigious CA university. He wrote a history paper for which he received a poor mark with the professor noting that a minority shouldn’t have that point of view. He is now at a private university and is happy. I can’t recall who said it, but one philosopher said boredom can be a very dangerous thing especially when boredom looks to correct the behavior of others, whether an individual or a nation state, and not your own. I think the west is very very bored. It is okay. Nations rise and fall. Perhaps African countries can truly start their ascent.

Jane McCarthy
Jane McCarthy
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

The thing about paying customers, is that paying doesn’t entitle you to whatever you want. Your fees only entitle you to a certain amount of value.
I can’t go to buy a meal and demand that I get caviar if I’ve only paid for a frozen pizza.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane McCarthy

Yes that’s quite right. But paying fees did seem to bring a sense of exaggerated entitlement – I experienced some of this as a lecturer/tutor not long after they were introduced – ‘I didn’t come here to learn *this*’ was a few students response to Biochemistry as part of a Chemistry degree. And this was STEM, not some Grievance Studies degree!

Wokeness was definitely pushed by academics – no argument there – but the entitlement started way before that. The combination of the two has given us the current toxicity.

tim richardson
tim richardson
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

We told our kids “you can be anything you want “; so, the boys said “I want to be a girl” and the girls said “I want to be a boy.”

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane McCarthy

They’ve paid for caviar, and get woke pizza.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

And university officials who scuttle around like scared Pizza Hut managers trying to ensure no one is offended, challenged or offered tastier alternatives.

David Barnett
David Barnett
1 year ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

One aspect that also contributed was the introduction of tuition fees for UK universities in 1998. It had the effect of turning students into customers.”
The problem is that it does not go far enough in making students into customers.
The centralised funding model is the problem. It allows administrations to bloat and then be hijacked by power-hungry empire builders. In effect, the university administration is the “customer” and the students merely a captive “justification” for the administration’s self-serving existence.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Twenty years ago, this article would have been considered satire. Sadly, in our current age it is to be accepted at face value as an earnest, tightly reasoned, and necessary, argument in support of the obvious value of free speech in a university.
It’s a clichĂ© that as each generation ages they bemoan the state of the younger generations following them. Today, however, it’s hard to see how young people entering or recently graduating from a Western university will be in any way competent to earn a living in a highly competitive world where non-Western countries couldn’t care less about the West’s pseudointellectual ideology based on victimhood.
I have two minor points of disagreement with the author:
Returning to universities, nobody is proposing to scrap them altogether;
Perhaps the author means he is not proposing to scrap universities. If he literally means nobody is proposing to scrap them I would suggest there is a growing body of opinion that we need to scrap many of them and start over.
any complaint against any lecturer’s or student’s speech would need to show that it failed one of two tests: Is the speech legal?
From what I’ve read, the trend toward criminalization of speech is so severe in the UK it seems entirely possible that, in a few years, a university lecturer could easily be charged with a crime based on expressing an unpopular view.
Great article. Sadly the people who would most benefit from it are probably unable to follow its tightly reasoned analysis.

Fred Bloggs
Fred Bloggs
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“Today, however, it’s hard to see how young people entering or recently graduating from a Western university will be in any way competent to earn a living in a highly competitive world where non-Western countries couldn’t care less about the West’s pseudointellectual ideology based on victimhood.”
You overestimate how seriously this is taken by the student body as a whole. I’m a recent graduate and this stuff is actively espoused by about 10%, accepted by about 80% (most of whom really don’t care beyond producing soundbites in social settings and are more sceptical than they let on), and 10% who actively oppose it. Of course, most of the latter category are quite jaded and rarely see the point of sticking their head above the parapet, so they leave the tinpot authoritarians to get on with it.
At my uni (Durham), there was actually an instance where the student body voted to ‘Re-Open Nominations’ instead of accepting any of the proposed candidates for Student Union President (all of whom were ideologue, SU oddballs). After a lively campaign, the embarrassing result was quickly considered void and the incumbent was undemocratically re-appointed. Why even bother at that point?

Last edited 1 year ago by Fred Bloggs
James 0
James 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

It has always been so. In my day (not that long ago) the students at York elected the equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate as SU President (a guy who came dressed as a pirate) because the other candidates were so tedious and extreme.

The vast majority of students want what their parents wanted: a decent degree and the chance of getting a good job afterwards. Sadly, it’s the professional offence-takers who stand the most chance of getting on, at least in politics and journalism.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

Interesting perspective. Thank you.

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred Bloggs

Let say your numbers are correct.
Question is then: why 80% of students feel the need to repeat woke dogma and don’t express their real views?

Fred Bloggs
Fred Bloggs
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Honestly, most students simply don’t care. It’s frustrating for me trying to discuss it with my mates sometimes because they see me as a bit of a nutter and don’t really engage. The (more positive) flipside is that they also don’t engage when SU bods are talking out their bum. Essentially, discussing it in depth (beyond trite soundbites) has become taboo. This is probably due to the moral outrage that ensues from either side when you disagree with their views (some of which is clearly seen in these forums).
As James O says above, most people just want to have a good time and leave with a degree. They don’t really care about the politics in the same way hyper-engaged people like us do.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fred Bloggs
Steve Looney
Steve Looney
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The market is doing the scrapping/re-shaping as I type. Just as Unherd and Barry Weiss/Substack are taking out/re-shaping journalism.

tim richardson
tim richardson
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Elon musk and Gary Vaynerchuk are proposing that we scrap university education for young people on the grounds that they can receive all the free information they want off the Internet; it’s the “hustle mindset”.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago

Stimulating read, thank you. I think another philosopher worth citing in the context of performative offence and/or outrage would be Friedrich Nietzsche. His thoughts on the will to, and dynamics of power are most germane to the antics of the complainants here discussed.

Cut through the outer layers of stated purpose and you expose the heartwood of their movement: a concerted attempt to arrogate power to themselves. I’d have more respect for people peddling the social politics of grievance if they’d at least admit to this (fairly transparent) aim, but they won’t. Maybe they lack sufficient self awareness to interrogate their own motives?

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Parker

I think, as Tom Holland pointed out, like a fish in water, we don’t see how our Christian moral cultural assumptions – even if we don’t believe the supernatural part – inform everything.

Brian Dunlop
Brian Dunlop
1 year ago

I think this piece by Professor Ahmed is the most magnificient response to the challenges clear-thinking, open-minded people face in the Wokeness Era. I’m no lawyer, but I’m thinking of having my students indicate agreement, via text or email, the statement at the bottom of this comment. If they don’t agree, then our interactions will be limited to simple polite formalities. This approach would rapidly sort students into a characteristic of identity, and one far more meaningful that the immutable, tribalist components of identity that are being prioritized and foisted upon us. Specifically, students will identify as emotionally “resilient” or “sensitive” in the face of challenging intellectual ideas. Such an identify could live alongside their pronouns, so that the emailer or Zoom discussant could know how to talk to the person – either in an open, direct and honest manner, or in a stilted/constrained/performative manner. I suspect classes filled with resilients would rapidly become known among students as the more engaging and fun classes to be in. This is the message:
“I affirm that by engaging in conversation with Person X, I am exposing myself to the risk of emotional harms which may arise from the conduct or content of his/her speech. I agree to hold Person X harmless for any emotional harms I experience through such conversations.”

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Dunlop
stephen archer
stephen archer
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dunlop

If you decide to do it and depending upon where you teach, the first reaction may be from a superior in your organisation who has been contacted by the future potential offended or his/her proxy. I hope I’m wrong and I hope that you and others in this potential area of conflict succeed in the long term. You seem to be on the front line.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dunlop

That message should be the rational basis of any discussion between any two people. Unfortunately, it will be seen as harm, in and of itself, to some. If you don’t like what another person is saying, then either make a reasoned argument against it or leave. Don’t try to say they don’t have the same right as you do to speak.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

No university should be permitted to enrol a student on any course(s) unless and until the student has signed a declaration in the following form:
I understand that I may find the content of the course(s) on which I have enrolled distressing, sometimes severely so, but I have enrolled on that understanding and expressly agree that the content cannot be adjusted to accommodate my sensibilities.
I further understand that in the course of my studies, both in the faculty, and from visiting speakers, I must expect to read and hear opinions and points of view with which I disagree, sometimes vehemently. I understand that the only permissible way to counter such opinions and points of view is by reasoned and courteous argument. I expressly agree that I will not urge, participate or acquiesce in the censorship, cancellation, exclusion or other actual or attempted suppression of any such opinions or points of view or the person(s) expressing them.
I further understand that any attempt to censor, cancel, exclude or suppress opinions or points of view with which I happen to disagree is inconsistent with my participation in the course(s) and may be regarded as gross misconduct leading to my immediate exclusion; and that in any such event my tuition fees will not be refunded.
I further understand that this declaration applies equally to all students and members of the faculty, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or other background and regardless of any actual or pretended harm supposed to have been caused by adherence to the principles set out above.

Bella OConnell
Bella OConnell
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Bravo! Where do I sign!

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
1 year ago

Of course this all reduces to the question of women in the public square. For the last century women have been attempting to change the public aquare to suit a more feminine sensibility.
That’s because “women expect to be protected.”
But “men know they are expendable.”

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
1 year ago

…indeed the pachyderm in the Common Room appears to have all the symptoms of muliebrity.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bernard Hill
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

This should cheer you up:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago

Succinctly put, and exactly what I’ve been thinking for a while now.

James 0
James 0
1 year ago

“This all reduces to the question of women in the public square”

Yes, it’s all the wimmins fault, isn’t it?

How bizarre. You’ll be complaining about female suffrage next.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago
Reply to  James 0

No one complained about female suffrage, mate. Not even the men in the early 20th century where there was reasonable support before WW1, the suffragettes actually harmed their cause with their spoilt upper class “married to rich guy” antics.

The gap between most men getting the vote and most women getting the vote ranged between a few decades (European countries) to zero (newly independent colonies).
As a reminder, this is < 0.01% of the duration homi sapiens has been on Earth. And those women didn't have to die by the millions for that right, unlike working class men in WW1.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

mate?.. please!!!!!

James 0
James 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I’m sorry, mate, I genuinely can’t make sense of your comment.

Women didn’t fight in the trenches in WW1? What on earth has that got to do with anything?

The fact that you have received 6 likes is frightening and a sad reflection of where this comments section is going. Mate.

Last edited 1 year ago by James 0
Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 year ago
Reply to  James 0

You sound like you’ve never really thought about whether we made the right decision with women’s suffrage.

Paul Hendricks
Paul Hendricks
1 year ago
Reply to  James 0

There are two reasons, yea, three explanations why a man will allow the feminine sensibility to take over this or that organization. One, he is naive and/or timorous. Two, he secures an advantageous position for himself as the authority to whom the women will appeal for protection. Three, he is unwilling or unable to compete with men or on masculine terms or even, like the infamous so-called “transgender” swimmer, perversely finds it satisfying to compete against women.

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Hendricks
Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago

Not all women expect to be protected and not all men are expendable. 🙂

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

What if John Stuart Mill was simply full of it?
What if basing your society’s laws on “your rights only stop at my nose” is a recipe for an ever larger state policing an ever increasing number of conflicts between rights and noses?
What if government doesn’t exist purely to police nonconsensual harm, but to promote goodness and virtue, both for the individual and for society at large? Such a view of government traces its origins all the way to Plato and Aristotle; Mill is an infant by comparison.
Patrick Deenen wrote a book called Why Liberalism Failed that outlines this thesis from an Western Enlightenment perspective.
Ryszard Legutko (Polish MP) covers a similar view but from an ex-communist perspective in The Demon in Democracy.
I agree with both of them. In raising “my individual autonomy” above “the common good”, Enlightenment liberalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. It ran for several hundred years on shared Judeo-Greco-Roman-Christian cultural inertia, but that’s all burned through now, and we’ve living through the logical endpoint of Locke and Mill’s philosophy of maximal individual autonomy.
Mill was a wrong turn. As C.S. Lewis says, “When you’re on the wrong road, the most progressive man is the one who turns around first.”

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago

I agree with you whole-heartedly on your point about placing individual autonomy above the common good, however we now come to the problem that I have been battling with myself – what is the common good and who decides it? As you point out, the Judeo-Greco-Roman-Christian culture that was prevalent for centuries is no longer assented to by a large part, perhaps the majority, of the population, and the current in vogue idea of the common good (i.e. “wokism”) is not accepted by the majority and would limited individual autonomy to an unacceptable level for many people. The common good is an idea that needs an expression to which the vast majority can assent, and I do believe that this expression is out there among the people of the country; it may be post-Christian, it may be post-Enlightenment, but I think that it is not “woke”.

Richard Barnes
Richard Barnes
1 year ago

I think the idea of the government existing at least partly to “promote goodness and virtue” is being fully explored in Saudi Arabia where, as I’m sure you’re aware, there is a Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice to enforce what the government decrees is the common good.
Is this really a road we wish to go down?

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago

I don’t think that Mill was a wrong turn. It’s not ‘common good’ we have to worry about, but ‘harms in common’. The problem of a common good or harm is usually one of (as the economists say) externalities — whereby the consequences (costs or benefits) of a transaction are carried by third parties. Most of the time when we make transactions we do not have to worry about externalties, because there aren’t any worth measuring. But it leads to a certain narrow focus where you only see the consequences for the people in the transaction and thus conclude that nobody was harmed, when that was not so.
Sometimes we seem to understand this very well. To take a very real example — “Times are hard. My family is starving. So I sell my eldest daughter to somebody who wants to buy her for money to feed the rest.” This is a win for the person who wanted a slave more than the money, and a win for the family. We can design a case where the slave is better off as well. But the institution of slavery harms the rest of us, so you make such transactions illegal.
It’s much better to have the government go after evils, and try to eliminate them than to try to promote ‘the good’. ‘The Good’ is often something that nobody can really articulate, ‘but I will know it when I see it’. I would know a unicorn when I saw one walking down the street, too, but a government policy to promote unicorns on main street is doomed no matter how much we would like to see one, whereas evils can usually be made very specific and measurable, so you can see if your policy is working, had unintended consequences, etc. It is also more resilient to mission creep, because there is always more to be done to promote any particular good. When involved in evil-stomping you can get to the point where you say ‘right, this evil is pretty well stomped right now, I can move on to this other evil and go stomp on that instead’. Without this, it is hard to know when it is time to stop, when to quit, when to try something else, and when to just go for a walk in forest. If you are pursuing a unicorn, you will *never* reach this point.

Last edited 1 year ago by Laura Creighton
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Superb!

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago

But when people’s jobs depend on finding new harms to stomp out, they will always find it, whether other people think it is harmful or not. Nor does someone become an omniscient angel when they go to work for a government. They are just as concerned with their own well being first as they are in any other job. They are no more capable of deciding the best way to deal with an externality that involves other people than those people are themselves. And those people are the ones who actually have their own skin in the game. They cannot read other people’s minds and discover what those people value and how much. There are no solutions to most problems, only trade-offs.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

how well put!

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago

Government is that organization authorized to use force, deadly force if needed, in response to the initiation of the use of force by another. It is inherently different than any other organization. It cannot promote one view at the expense of others and remain just. What people do of their own free will is up to them.
Plato’s Philosopher Kings would arrogate to themselves the right to decide what is right and wrong simply because they believe it. When they decide they believe something different is right or wrong, then there is nothing to stop them from being even worse than the “evil” ideas you think they should be against to begin with. That is why we try to bind them down with Constitutions or other documents. To limit the harm they can do and that mankind has proven over and over again, throughout history, will eventually arise anywhere.

Michael James
Michael James
1 year ago

The issue of consent to be harmed will probably be central to the legal action being taken against the Tavistock gender clinic.

Last edited 1 year ago by Michael James
Phillip Bailey
Phillip Bailey
1 year ago

I’ll confess my ignorance to the content of the Online Safety Bill, but reading things like this:
Hampshire Police have since said that no further action will be taken against a man who was arrested on suspicion of sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing message or matter”
Are worrying indeed – that net seems cast broad enough to catch any fish…

Adam McDermont
Adam McDermont
1 year ago
Reply to  Phillip Bailey

What I do not understand is how the lunatics have captured all our institutions and not just some.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

I suffer from the same confusion.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

Even the Army, and the Navy long ago.

Gregory Cox
Gregory Cox
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

Common Purpose?

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

Because the people who care about capturing the institutions are driven to do so, and there are enough of them that they can get the job mostly done before anybody notices, or rather while the few who are sounding alarms are considered silly, or paranoid, because ‘it could never happen here’. It goes from ‘couldn’t happen’ to ‘already has’ at a speed far to rapid for the usual slow-moving university processes which could protect the university to come into play.

Last edited 1 year ago by Laura Creighton
John Wilkes
John Wilkes
1 year ago

The long march through the institutions!
This was assisted by Gordon Brown massively increasing the use of unaccountable quangos stuffed with their own kind of jobsworths and woke warriors.
These organisations, such as NHS England (“an executive non departmental public body”) actually control things. In this case the organisations description makes it clear that the executive function of the NHS resides not in Government / Health Secretary, but in an unelected body full of quangocrats.
This is replicated throughout the public sector, Government no longer runs anything, it is just there to take the blame.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

Because we didn’t think it was important enough to make a stink about this little thing and that little thing and eventually all those little things added up to a big thing that we are only now seeing as a problem important enough to make a stink about. But too many of our kids have grown up thinking all those little things were right because their teachers said so and their professors said so and the media said so and politicians said so and …
It didn’t really come home until one of our kids came home with a paper she was so proud of that she got an A on. It was full of misspellings and grammatical errors. When we looked at the teacher’s instructions it was almost as full of misspellings and grammatical errors. When we went to the principal, we were told that if the kids needed to worry about spelling and grammar, they would pick it up on their own along the way.
Basically, it meant that we had to be the “bad guys” at home, at least that year, and do our own separate grading and penalties for errors.

Anakei Ess
Anakei Ess
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

Because people like us snipe at the sidelines and write to the editor. Our apathy fuels their success.
I am very disturbed by the turn the West has taken, but I go no further than refusing to wear a mask and voting for a candidate that is least woke..( difficult given even conservative parties are now fully on board with lockdowns, climate change mitigation, renewables, vaccination, alphabet nonsense, speech control, mandates etc)
The majority disagree with it, but go along with it for a quiet life.
If any one wonders how Germany, an educated, civilized country, got taken over by fascists, you only need to look at any western country now.

Margaret TC
Margaret TC
1 year ago

‘Doubtless Cornwall crossed a line plucking out Gloucester’s eyes’. King Lear is gruelling to read or watch – I need to take a walk after a few scenes. So according to the insane logic of the current exercise in book burning it should no longer be taught in case it might upset students. But that’s what tragedies do and for good reason – to teach us a thing or two about the human condition and ourselves.

Gordon Hughes
Gordon Hughes
1 year ago

I think that it is easy to anathematize universities for being wet and, indeed, they are wet. However, the kind of approach proposed by Professor Ahmed or the consent agreements for students don’t really go very far to solve the root problem. There are two things that we should not forget.
First, much of the pressure to cancel controversial figures comes from academic staff rather than students. Many junior academics (researchers and teachers) have short term contracts and suffer the insecurity that is often linked with woke attitudes in the general population. For them what matters are the opinions of their peers in other institutions, so if, for example, the Society for xxx (name your discipline or specialism) is obsessed with diversity, etc this will spill over into what the wider group of academics in xxx believe they must display to get on. How are these affected by consent unless a duty to protect and promote freedom of speech is a core condition of employment for academic staff and university employees. Students are easier to deal with because they can be sent away. Staff are covered by employment law, which universities mostly do not want to deal with – especially in controversial cases. And remember that in the UK the union for academic staff is utterly infected by woke assumptions.
Second, what happens when, as is often the case, the pressure is sustained by outside non-students working with students and staff. As a society we are very ambivalent in how to handle protests against decisions arrived at following due process. It is not just in France that the right to protest or riot is regarded as a legitimate way of opposing decisions that are claimed to be “oppressive”. Universities don’t know how to deal with such protests, partly because the relevant law is both ambiguous and cumbersome, and partly because society is often very naive in condoning a lot of bad behaviour that appears to be motivated by good intentions. Much stricter rules on what is legitimate and illegitimate protest would be require universities to stand up for any set of principles. It is easier and cheaper for them to try to buy off protests. The only way to change that calculus is to make them liable for huge damages if they condone or facilitate cancellation. However, then they will seek out loopholes to terminate employment on grounds that are little more than excuses to avoid liability for damages.
It is not just student fees which create the wrong incentives. The larger problem is that the costs of going along with cancellation are far too low in comparison with the costs of dealing with protesting staff, students and outsiders.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 year ago

Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck today, condition unknown at this moment. It adds a certain frisson to this dry musing on permissible limits. As is the custom, police will scratch their heads for days trying to come up with a possible motive. If the stabbing was a beheading interrupted, that should be considered a clue.

Anakei Ess
Anakei Ess
1 year ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

The clue is already there- the perpetrator has posted on line. The authorities however, don’t want to jump to conclusions, obvious though they may be to the rest of us.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

This is why i subscribe to Unherd; both the essay and the comments represent the best of us. (I don’t mean “we’re the best”, rather the best aspects of our nature and intellect.)
It strikes me there’s more than one piece of era-defining legislation currently passing through parliament. Will those tasked with completion and enactment of these bills have been as fully advised as they might’ve been; for instance, if Professor Ahmed was involved in the process of consultation? (He may well be, but if not, there’s still time!)
One of the salient points raised by the article and comments is what might constitute ‘the common good’. Might i add to the debate the possibility that making a conscious decision as a society NOT to attempt to define ‘the common good’ could be a preferable option? That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be debated – far from it! – but rather that in defining what it ‘is’ therefore precludes further debate? Or, at least suggests something that has been settled, and thereby hangs the noose around which every ideological paradigm fails. I call it the propensity to place ourselves in a straightjacket, consent included!
Only when we’re mature enough as individuals and as a civilisation to be able to recognise that going down that route will inevitably lead to both unintended and potentially harmful consequences will we escape from the current malaise but also the propensity itself. Of course, that would leave a great many people shrouded in doubt and looking for some kind of guidance – the very wellspring of manipulation by those who seek to do just that – or to reference Nietzsche again, the Will to Power, where it can be interpreted as the desire to exercise authority over others (there are other meanings). But this brings us to the issue of consent once more, and the need that many people seem to feel to have authority exercised over them, whether in a political, religious, or other context. By conceding that space in our lives, we prolong the agony.
I’m not here referring to the obvious examples of, for instance, consenting to the authority of those senior to us in military or civil organisations and the workplace, but it’s certainly interesting that when we join a company or service, there’s often no explicit consent to do so; rather, it’s implicit. Doesn’t that tell us something about how humans intuitively understand how these things work?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes. Excellent post!

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

Who exactly would be offended by descriptions of slavery? Slave-owners? No doubt the poor darlings would go and get their nails done … by Chinese slaves. And tell their friends using a phone … made by Chinese slaves. Or buy themselves a salad made from vegetables picked by people trafficked to the UK by organised criminals … and held like slaves.

Methadras Aszlosis
Methadras Aszlosis
1 year ago

Universities will never hold their student bodies accountable for anything anymore. Why? The money, that’s why. K-12 public education has now been completely taken over by radical Marxist intersectional SJW woke ideologically bent school boards and teacher’s unions. Curricula are geared toward social justice policies, not actual academic achievement. So by the time these kids get to university, they take out loans in the tens of thousands or more dollars, The universities turn them into enthralled acolytes of this radical ideology because it needs to continue the farce that it is to keep getting the student loan money.
They continually raise tuition because the government will use up taxpayer dollars to guarantee these loans to the tune of trillions now with no end in sight. This won’t stop, the gravy train is too good and the cabal of the university/government is too tight a bond. The government needs the burgeoning leftists to continue filling in retiree slots in bureaucracies and to infiltrate corporations to do their bidding. This isn’t fantasy or conspiracy. It’s been happening for the last 30+ years. Don’t believe me, then ask yourself why an article like this has to be written.
Why are we seeing the great ideological divide in this country that we are? Why are we seeing mass domestic migration of people from blue states into red states so they can turn those red states purple and eventually blue? It’s right in front of our faces if we choose to look. My eyes are open and the picture isn’t pretty.

mark taha
mark taha
1 year ago

All laws restricting free speech, be the excuses for them obscenity, blasphemy, racism homophobia hate speech or whatever, should be repealed. Universities should be compelled to expel all students and staff who.shout down speakers or break up meetings.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

Not sure if the blue -> red migration turns the state purple, then blue really is true. A worry certainly, but many migrate because they gave up that blue might ever become purple. Voting with your feet sends messages about policy.

Adam McDermont
Adam McDermont
1 year ago

A thoughtful piece. 

I do not think that boxing is the best example of the consent issue. Bouts take place in a professional setting with paid for support on hand. This is different to a bunch of idiots who want to cut their foreskins. In the latter case, indirect harm may be caused to the emergency services and the public via the cost of having to deal with something stupid and pointless. 

A healthy society should be able to recognise the nobility of competitive sport and discriminate accordingly. To put it bluntly, certain things that might cause harm should be more permissible than other things that might cause harm.

Many acts, both violent and non-violent, that arise from individual choice, can cause harm. This is why I favour a state with both liberal and illiberal laws. One may choose to smoke as an individual. But the choice harms others who may be prematurely bereaved. It harms those who might breathe in passive smoke. The potential for harm to be done through acts that some may think a matter of individual choice, is immense. A benevolent state would be confident in asserting what is best. 

Liberalism in its current guise is moral syphilis. I’m stepping over it.

https://theheritagesite.substack.com/

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

I agree with your analysis about the indirect harm one’s actions can cause others, your smoking example is a good one, but I think this is more a moral concern rather than a legal one. The problem in today’s society is that it is infra dig. to make moral judgements about people’s behaviours, hence the idea that, for example, one must not in any way condemn a woman who has just had her third child with no support from the fathers and the state (i.e. you and me) must support her. Even though support should be given (the children should not suffer), I see no reason why an expression of disappoval cannot be made. There, you probably think that I am some Victorian maiden aunt who sits around with pursed lips and narrowed eyes, but I do believe in individual responsibility within the areas that one has individual autonomy.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Oh for those happy days when one could say:
”Civis romanus sum”.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

How does anyone else determine what “too much” emotional harm is? It is purely subjective. The wife who loses the smoking husband early may be glad to see him go or find herself prostrate with grief for years. Has his smoking done harm to one and not the other? Once you get into subjectives, it is no longer a suitable aim for legislation.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 year ago

One of the most intelligent and cogent pieces of writing I have read. Bravo! Now all we need is Kemi Badenoch to enact suitable legisaltion once she is in office.

David Ganz
David Ganz
1 year ago
Reply to  Sam Brown

Badenoch less of a thinker and more of an ideologue. Did she condemn Johnson?

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
1 year ago

Section 5.1 of Imperial College’s Policy says ‘No single or persistently upsetting behaviour is too trivial to raise through the Grievance Procedure.’ So that sets one boundary. I have searched the document and not found the word ‘consent’ anywhere, so that sets another boundary. I am please to report that University College London’s policy includes Section 3.3 on Consent which at least recognises that ‘a person is free to make a choice if nothing negative would happen to them if they said no’. The question is then where you draw the line on something negative. Should it include feeling offended, or should it mean only being prevented from exercising legitimate freedoms, which could range, for example, from distracting others with exotic religious display, to walking out on a lecturer with whom they disagree.

mark taha
mark taha
1 year ago

I.couldn’t agree more. Tell the woke to sleep and the snowflakes to melt. A University is not a kindergarten.

Laura Kamienski
Laura Kamienski
1 year ago

Good analysis solidly based in philosophy. Kudos! I think one point missed is the profit (even though they claim to be nonprofit) motive of universities. They want to recruit students. We live in a time of entrenched identity politics gone mad. A university that doesn’t cater to the “consumers” won’t attract students. Without addressing the inherent flaw(s) in identity politics, e.g. the obfuscation of economic inequality, and addressing the costs and motives of the institutions themselves, this trend will likely continue unabetted.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

Hear hear. To me, your entire article seems well-written common-sense. What is truly bizarre is that it even needs to be said. I was a student in Belfast during the Troubles. Regularly, I bought 2 local journals: one was the (Irish republican) Sinn FĂ©in paper, “An Phoblacht”, and the other was, “Ulster”, the Loyalist paramilitary journal. I bought the 2 magazines at the same time, and did get the occasional odd look from the cashier, who perhaps assumed I was a clueless tourist. I would challenge anyone to find 2 magazines with more polarised perspectives lol. (Though I also regularly bought “Kerrang!” (the heavy metal magazine, and “Spare Rib”, the hardcore Feminist magazine, usually at the same time too. That too elicited some double-takes at checkout time 
 I was from the pro-united Ireland community, and, by definition, everything in the “Ulster” magazine should have been “offensive” to me. However, because I was born in the last century, and therefore driven by a spirit of intellectual curiosity, I was eager to offend myself as much as possible, as I understood that was how you broadened your mind. In those days, unlike today, you didn’t have to agree with someone in order to respect and like them. My doppelgangers in 2022 would doubtless be calling for both magazines to be banned. 

jackbyham
jackbyham
1 year ago

Superb.

John Solomon
John Solomon
1 year ago

Re the ‘spanner’case :
“In short, consent is not a defence.But in a state that respected Mill’s principle, in the form that I am recommending, it would have been. And it should have been, too.”

No it shouldn’t. The writer misses one key point : anyone consenting to the sort of masochistic abuse in that infamous case cannot possibly, in my opinion, be wholly sane, and we cannot possibly allow insane people the same rights of consent that we grant to everyone else.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  John Solomon

But who gets to decide who is insane, and what acts count as ‘could not be consented to by reason that anybody who would consent must be insane’?

David Ganz
David Ganz
1 year ago

Perhaps Professor Ahmed could disclose what provoked Professor Herbert in his own college, and who leaked the story to Varsity and the Daily Mail?

Last edited 1 year ago by David Ganz
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

I would have never imagined that words might be harmful. I recall sticks & stones vs words. Even the bully yelling at me goes with a shrug. Have we really arrived to become so weak? Protecting children might be wise as we once took care not to use coarse crude words around them and women. The respect for the tender ears of females departed long ago, I suppose. I recall my grams saying some rough stuff at one time, but she was a WWI career military wife.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

I always found the best reply to a bully was “are you enjoying yourself?” It’s enough to make them slink away.

Lewis Neilson
Lewis Neilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Hardee Hodges

Clueless.

Fred Paul
Fred Paul
1 year ago

A question was asked. I will answer. Read further.
“Doubtless Cornwall crossed a line plucking out Gloucester’s eyes; ditto Darth Vader vis-a-vis Luke’s hand. But should we imprison every surgeon who removes an organ or amputates a limb? The law rightly prosecutes anyone who knocks you unconscious on the street; should it also condemn every boxer who wins on a KO? For what is the difference? No magic power puts boxing rings and operating theatres outside the reach of the law; but there is actual or presumed consent.
Nor is consent an arbitrary line. Who is better placed than an adult risking injury to determine whether the potential or actual benefits make it worthwhile? No ethicist, politician or judge could have what Hayek might have called the “local knowledge” that you have.”
The difference between Cornwall plucking out Gloucester’s eyes and the surgeon who removes the organ is the intent and circumstance. The intent of Cornwall was to punish. The surgeon’s intent was to improve the patient’s quality of life. Circumstance also plays a part. Knocking someone out on the street, which fails intent, is also not expected, whereas knocking someone out in the ring passes intent and circumstance. It’s expected in a ring.
Freedom of speech is a restriction on authority from limiting what you can say, either in public or private. It does not protect you if you say something that is liable. Hence, intent and circumstances become critical factors. That professor may be liable if a professor poo-poos a student’s religious beliefs outside of intent and circumstance. In the past, expressing religious beliefs in university would have a detrimental impact on your ability to thrive in that environment if the authorities (professors with power) who may be atheists viewed otherwise. You may ask, why not? In another country, such as Iran, it would mean an atheist’s difference of life or death. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
I agree with the waiver principle, but only regarding the course that the waiver addresses, not wholesale. And whatever is said in that course never carries over that could have a discriminatory impact.

Steve Looney
Steve Looney
1 year ago

This is well stated and worth amplifying. As an student in the 70’s and since I observed with amusement the ebb of courage in “leaders” at most US Universities–willing to entertain/allow policies “so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them”. This starts and ends at the Trustee/Large Donor/Government-Funders-with-Agendas level. Thanks Professor Ahmed and Unherd! Your clear voice ably informs these folks, and those who appoint their successors, and turns this tide. Right On!

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

In the light of the recent assault on Salman Rushdie, this article is even more relevant.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I loathed and hated university, Kings London, but years later loved being on a board at Dept of Engineering at Cambridge…

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

What about Sandhurst?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

I was hopeless!!

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Well at least you tried!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

New and Victory… SSLC…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

not passing law exams at Kings did not assist smooth passage for the then ‘ rapid entry’ SSLC system

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Pity they closed ‘Mons’, six months of hell, then “license to kill”
..epic!

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

it had just closed when I first darkened the doors of ” Camberley Comprehensive”!

Douglas H
Douglas H
1 year ago

Thanks. One thing: I thought it was the Irish PM Garret FitzGerald who asked “that’s fine in practice, but how will it work in theory?”

Paul Davies
Paul Davies
1 year ago

I noted on Spiked that the author of this piece made the following comment
The likes of Thomas More, Mary Whitehouse, Mrs Thatcher and almost every lord chancellor all sought to ban things they deemed a threat to public decency.’
I am ready to be educated as to what Margaret Thatcher attempted to ban on the grounds that she deemed it a threat to public decency.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Davies

(Just in Today) — she appears to have considered banning sex toys. https://www.newsweek.com/thatcher-considered-banning-sex-toys-documents-show-295809

Last edited 1 year ago by Laura Creighton
Fred Paul
Fred Paul
1 year ago

What did you expect from the “Iron Lady?”

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago

Even those of us with PTSD have to learn to live with the rest of the world, no matter how we feel in response to any aspect of it. Semi-solid biological waste products are a common occurrence. There’s nothing you can do to make the past any different nor do you have the right to force the beliefs or actions of others in the present to change unless they are actually using force against you.

James Anthony Seyforth
James Anthony Seyforth
1 year ago

Honestly, signing up to university is that consensual contract to be offended and harmed. The only reason it isn’t enforced i.e. why student aren’t asked to quit when they complain is because those students line the coffers of the weedy spoilt academics teaching them.

Joe Wein
Joe Wein
1 year ago

Great article. I would have written it a bit more succinctly.
“Students, grow the F up.”
I am shocked though, at the UK’s lack of free speech rights. It makes me grateful for the American 1st amendment.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Wein

Yes, because there’s no “cancelling” or forcing out of university lecturers in the good ol’ US

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
1 year ago

This is just another aspect of the dumbing down of a university education. Not everyone is university material and not everyone should be. We still need plumbers, joiners, bus drivers, retail and hospitality workers who do not need a university education but we have got rid of the polys and other colleges so university is the only route left to get qualifications.
If we were to go back to the universities of “old”, then just maybe the centres of excellence in learning would return with the adult attitudes that we valued them for. I didn’t get to university until I was a very mature student of 38 as I didn’t have the necessary qualifications when I left school. I was a better student for going to do an MSc at that age than I would have been at the age of 22.

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
1 year ago

Once upon a time all these suggestions would have been regarded as common sense. Should we blame the academics for not pushing back against the forces of unreason, or – as in the health service – is the whole shebang now being run by arse-watchers who take the path of least resistance out of any argument, whether real or potential?

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Eagle