by George Smith
Wednesday, 6
October 2021
Campus Wars
11:00

The truth about the St Andrews bias test

I was made to take the diversity module — it's both tokenistic and patronising
by George Smith

None of my peers at the University of St Andrews were surprised to see the re-emergence of a compulsory “Diversity Training” module this year. 

Last year, we had to complete mandatory “Consent Training” and “Training in Environmental Sustainability Action” modules to matriculate as students. We were also tasked with a “Student Diversity Online Training” module — though it was taken down following complaints from some students that it was, among other things, “bad”, “half assed” and “slightly not okay”.

Although the failure of this first attempt at a diversity module proved that ideas about what equality and diversity are not universal, there remained a strong desire among the student body for a replacement. This is likely because we have the largest proportion of American students of any British university. Through them, and intensified by social media, American-style campus movements such as Black Lives Matter appear in the form of an enthusiastic and energetic activism, much of which occurs online.  

The summer of 2020 also saw the creation of of “St Andrews Survivors“, an Instagram page that revealed hundreds of harrowing stories of sexual harassment and abuse. In response, the University attempted to address the issue of sexual harassment on campus, of which the introduction of a compulsory module on consent played a small part.

Ultimately though, these compulsory modules do not amount to anything except a token effort to address a problem whose solution is far more complicated than an eighteen-question quiz. 

This is especially the case for the “Diversity Training” module, which was patronisingly easy to complete. The yes/no format could be finished within five minutes, without the need for the reams of attached information. This was also true of the “Consent Training” module.

What this all amounted to, then, was an entirely pointless exercise. It isn’t right that at The Times’s top-ranked UK university pupils should be expected to have to agree with the statement ‘‘Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias” in order to become a student. Such issues are never binary and the time would be better spent discussing the issue, rather than taking a test on it.

When I asked the University of St Andrews if students could opt out of the module, a spokesperson responded:

The University is not imposing mandatory consent training tests for students, the consent training module has been included in matriculation because students wanted it there. Students have campaigned hard for the University to make these trainings, on consent, sustainability, and diversity, available to all students as part of matriculation, and the University has listened to the student demand. These modules promote awareness and encourage discussion on key issues which are incredibly important to students.
- University of St Andrews

But this response did not actually answer my question: could students opt out if they wanted? To which the spokesperson later responded:

The modules are a mandatory part of matriculation which need to be completed in order to matriculate. What I meant was that the University is not imposing them, it is the student body who have asked the University for this.
- University of St Andrews

This seems like a roundabout way of saying that the module is, in fact, mandatory. I don’t want to suggest that the students who pushed for such modules are bad-intentioned, but they are misguided in their efforts. I can’t admit to knowing the solutions to questions of sexual abuse or whether St Andrews should or shouldn’t be more diverse, but it certainly isn’t in a lazily prescriptive module which represents its tenets as gospel.

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Derek Smith
Derek Smith
10 months ago

‘This is likely because we have the largest proportion of American students of any British university. ‘

Someone ought to remind the American students that they are now in the UK, and that they should keep their particular neuroses to themselves.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
10 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Indeed. By imposing the American Culture War on the rest of the world, these American students have become the colonialists of today. St Andrew’s could decolonize its curriculum by sending these mandatory modules back across the Atlantic.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

In the lifetime of many of us (1967) it was a criminal offence in many of the states of the US for people of different “races” to have sex and marry. This has never been the case in the UK. As a result people from the US have a weird attitude to inter-racial relations and are desperate to overcompensate for past attitudes. We should kick out the current US racist attitudes which are an odd inversion of their previous barmy ideas – but still racist.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
10 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Brits may feel free to disregard them too, you know. You don’t *have* to indulge them.

Al M
Al M
10 months ago
Reply to  Mo Brown

The problem, perhaps so acute in St Andrews, is that the University has granted the wishes of students without whose income it would face severe financial difficulties.

The root of the problem is really with the UK Governments of Blair/Brown/Cameron and the posturing of Salmond and Sturgeon in Scotland. Scottish students pay no fees in Scotland, but their numbers are capped; until Brexit, EU undergraduates also went for free (at considerable cost to Scottish taxpayers). So, elite universities have gone on a campaign to recruit rich overseas (non EU) students. Other UK countries are less attractive as their fees are capped at ca. £9k.

These students now appear to be influencing how the university is run from the position of a high value customer.

Last edited 10 months ago by Al M
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
10 months ago

It’s saddening to see the ideological poison of American universities seeping across the Atlantic.
The core of these ideologies is identity politics. It runs thus contrary to the most basic principles of humanism which underpin Enlightenment values. It degrades the individual and robs us of our sense of free will.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
10 months ago

I keep asking myself who is in charge at a University, the student body or the University? In the long run, students will lose respect for a university that gives in every time someone cries social injustice. Universities that do not show leadership and guidance have lost sight of their responsibility, which is to educate future generations to be able to work and survive in a very tough business world.

Jane Robertson
Jane Robertson
10 months ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

The same rubbish is ubiquitous in business now.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
10 months ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

Both the administration and the students themselves consider the latter to be customers. That is, I think, a large part of the problem.

Stephen Snow
Stephen Snow
10 months ago

From 1672 to 1854 anyone wanting to be fully accepted in the ruling class had to sign up to the 39 Articles of Religion. No doubt there were many back then who ticked the boxes without really believeing, but it had a suffocating effect on public life. It seems that St Andrews is aiming for a place in history by defining the articles of the newly emerging religion.

Jane Robertson
Jane Robertson
10 months ago

Whilst I agree that the mandatory nature of this “trainings” is not on, these things are actually pathetic. Multiple choice questions and answers tests can be done simply by clicking randomly until you hit the required combination. I recently had to do about 8 hours of these in order to do some work for a drug company and got so bored I just clicked away at it like a bad game of click a brick. I can’t remember much of it at all other than a few bits about not bribing doctors.

And I agree with the university, these “trainings” (ridiculous word) are demanded by people. They get cheap useless rubbish because there are only cheap useless rubbish people making up the stupid stuff and no one with a brain cares what’s in it.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago

“…though it was taken down following complaints from some students that it was, among other things, ‘bad’, ‘half assed’ and ‘slightly not okay’.”
Before we can even get to the issue of diversity tests, we need to urgently address the question of why we have students enrolled in one of the most prestigious universities in the land who actually write things like “half assed” and “slightly not okay”.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
10 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Because they [email protected] in foreign currency, too.

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago

A commentator here the other day compared all this to Calvinism. It sounds to me more like Catholicism, as most cynically practised. Go to confession, admit you’re a sinner, say the right form of words, get absolution, and on you go regardless. Here absolution = matriculation. Tokenistic indeed.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Not the same. Going to confession is still your choice. Not going won’t affect your career or earning potential.

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago

You’re right. That’s because Catholicism isn’t a theocracy, unlike the new orthodoxy.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I certainly see Wokeism as a religious phenomenon.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

You make a good point, but the essence of all Christianity (and to a large extent, Judaism) involves FORGIVENESS. We are to forgive each other endlessly, and through Christ we are graced with a perfect forgiveness.
The essence of woke is extremely unforgiving. You may or may not be forgiven a transgression regardless of any atonement or amends you make. There are also “sins” which are never actually forgiven, such as being white or otherwise privileged. Wokeness is also diametrically opposed to Christianity/original sin in that those who are classified as oppressed victims are viewed as something like angels, incapable of truly sinning.

Last edited 10 months ago by Sheryl Rhodes
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Sheryl Rhodes

Wokeism is a false religion, an inversion of Christianity. It preaches hatred and immorality.

Romans 16:17-18 And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

2 Peter 2:1-3 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

Last edited 10 months ago by Julian Farrows
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Yes, but what is the point of your quoting various bits of the Bible? Most of us do not adhere to it, I could not care less what an ancient text, full by the way of made up events (aka ‘lies’), has to say about anything. It will in any case have absolutely zero impact on this political and cultural debate.

Just asserting that Christianity is true – all religions claim the same – doesn’t get us anywhere.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

It’s a beautiful book with a message for the ages. The Old Testament served as a blueprint on how to build a healthy society during a time when most cultures were evil or insane. The living proof of this are still around, 4000 years later, despite the fact that many powerful tribes, empires, and nations tried to exterminate them.
The New Testament taught us how to act toward others and extend Grace to those who were born with very little. The warnings in both testaments are very clear and not simply dished out arbitrarily. They come from the lived experience of the people living in those times, and although they are open to interpretation, I would hesitate to call them lies as that suggests intent to deceive, which I don’t believe is the case here.
It’s easy to dismiss all this when you live comfortably, but most of your comfort is derived from the fruits of Judaeo-Christian religion and history. Saying it’s irrelevant is like a fish saying water is irrelevant. If we do away with our Christian foundations, we are left to the mercies and morality of the rich and powerful, most of whom seek to deceive, control, and make profit from us. Judging by the evidence of the times we live in, when we stopped believing in God, we started to believe in everything.

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

You have missed out penance, which involves some sort of action , even if ‘only’ on the spiritual plane. These tick box exercises have no sincerity, and they do not result in any improvement, either of the sinner , or for the sinned against.

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago
Reply to  Niobe Hunter

Yes, I did miss out penance. I was talking about cynical use of the confessional, in which genuine penance is absent. This is analogous to the tick-box ‘absolution’ offered by St Andrews. The difference is that the confessional, when working properly, provides liberation from the weight of sin, while St Andrews rubs your nose in it (even if there is none).

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew D
Mo Brown
Mo Brown
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

No. No one has to go to confession. It’s entirely up to them. No one is keeping track.
Also no: in Catholicism all are sinners. In woke-ism there are oppressors and there are their victims.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

And, as with Catholicism, go away and commit all the sins again?

Alan B
Alan B
10 months ago

Until we recognize that training and education are polar opposites, this stuff will never end.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

I don’t want to suggest that the students who pushed for such modules are bad-intentioned, but they are misguided in their efforts.
I do want to suggest that they are bad-intentioned, in fact, I’ll go further and say that they are malign, evil c….Where did they get their playbook from? Mao’s Cultural Revolution? Vietnamese re-education camps?
Normal people are subject to cancellation everywhere for minor indiscretions that are often not even indiscretions at all. These people–those who would take away our rights, our free speech, or way of life–are evil and must be resisted at every opportunity. This is not a respectful disagreement where reasonable minds can differ, this is war. They must be called out with personal attacks, personal destruction, even–fighting fire with fire.
Can we stop fighting the culture war with our hands tied behind our backs, please? Time for the gloves to come off!
I’m a Yank and the US is heading for Civil War. I don’t exactly welcome it, but I see it as inevitable. No one should be forced to live in a country where half his fellow citizens do not share even the most basic common values and the woke half attempts to impose their “woke” values on the non-woke. Civil War soon. Lock and load!

D Ward
D Ward
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Bad intentioned? F fs. Whatever happened to the perfectly useful expression “mal-intentioned”, which has the advantage of being elegant and correct?

David Bell
David Bell
10 months ago
Reply to  D Ward

Ill-intentioned is correct.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
10 months ago

Did the photo (?of St Andrews’ graduates?) make anyone else think of The Handmaid’s Tale? A tale for our times it seems…

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago

Yes, it did.

Al M
Al M
10 months ago

I was going to post something similar, except that it made me think of Squid Game.

Last edited 10 months ago by Al M
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago

People are getting paid for this legalised corruption.
Find out who and how and how much , expose them and depose them

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
10 months ago

Thank you, George, for this report. Perhaps St. Andrews students should be required to play a round of golf with a bona fide minority person. By the the time they walk through 18 holes together, they’ll be jolly good fellows/femmes.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
10 months ago
Reply to  LCarey Rowland

Good idea, but the likelihood is that this could take 6 or 7 hours.

Al M
Al M
10 months ago

So, rather than students requesting this (other than the usual activist cohort, which also appears to be from the USA), as the University claims, many actually expressed a great dislike to it and rejected it. So students were made to sit it again the next year and give the right answer; and were told that they themselves mandated it???

Sound familiar to anyone?

I’m also assuming that ‘George Smith’ is a pseudonym, much as how articles from junior doctors use a shared nom-de-plume here. If so, That he or she feels the need for this is utterly chilling.

Last edited 10 months ago by Al M
Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
10 months ago

I am not an expert on Scots law but I suspect that a compulsory belief test of this sort, I.e. as a condition precedent for matriculation, would be unlawful in the rest of the UK.

Harold Carter
Harold Carter
9 months ago

The key issue, I think, is that students who disagree (or question) the terms in which ‘diversity’ is being defined can’t matriculate. Of course they can lie about it and just tick the box. But what sort of university system is it that requires students to lie at the moment they arrive? If they are honest they can’t study at the university. And that’s true even if they are accepting of the LGBTQ+ agenda, but worry about the coherence of the way in which the question is framed. Surely this violates multiple elements of the European Human Rights Convention – including freedom of expression and freedom of religion? Why is nobody mounting a court challenge?

Catriona Flear
Catriona Flear
10 months ago

“Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias”. Wow, this is verging on the worst parts of Free Presbyterian and Catholic belief, that we are born and remain sinners.

Last edited 9 months ago by Catriona Flear
sarah rutherford
sarah rutherford
10 months ago

I am a diversity consultant and this kind of training is giving the whole industry a bad name. Small discussion groups are the best way of discussing complex and personal issues but they are timely and expensive and this is just a box ticking exercise.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago

If you are indeed a “diversity consultant,” you are part of the problem, as is the whole industry. Your exist to blackmail others, make them feel guilty about the supposed sins of the fathers and various and sundry other crimes. In the USA before wokeness, people like you were called “poverty pimps,” now the range has expanded.
I fancy to say that you make a good living off this wokeness, and your professional existence, as well as that of your industry, is simply disgusting.

Jane Robertson
Jane Robertson
10 months ago

I think you need to check the meaning of the word industry. Unless that now means the complete opposite too.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
10 months ago

I sense prejudice in the negative responses to this comment, most likely based entirely on “I am a diversity consultant” rather than the comment itself. UnHerd cannot succeed if its commentators are a herd. The response by James Joyce is depressing.

jim peden
jim peden
10 months ago

I’d like to hear your take on diversity training in general as I am sceptical of its value to society. Perhaps you could write a piece for unherd?