Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Oxford law students too ‘fragile’ to hear about violent crime: Undergraduates given 'trigger warnings' before traumatic material

They are destined to be barristers and judges – but undergraduates studying law at Oxford are being told before lectures on cases involving violence or death that they can leave if they fear the content will be too ‘distressing’.

The revelation marks the arrival from the US of ‘trigger warnings’ – the politically correct notion that students should be warned before they encounter material that could elicit a traumatic response.

Lecturers have been asked by the director of undergraduate studies for law to ‘bear in mind’ using trigger warnings when they give lectures containing ‘potentially distressing’ content.

One law student explained: ‘Before the lectures on sexual offences – which included issues such as rape and sexual assault – we were warned that the content could be distressing, and were then given the opportunity to leave if we needed to.’

But some staff are unhappy with treating students as such fragile creatures.

Law lecturer Professor Laura Hoyano last week ridiculed the concept when she jokingly warned any students from ‘a farming family’ that she was about to discuss a case involving foot and mouth disease.

Last night, Prof Hoyano said: ‘We can’t remove sexual offences from the criminal law syllabus – obviously. If you’re going to study law, you have to deal with things that are difficult.’

An Oxford spokesman said: ‘The university aims to encourage independent and critical thinking and does not, as a rule, seek to protect students from ideas or material they may find uncomfortable. However, there may be occasions when a lecturer feels it is appropriate to advise students of potentially distressing subject matter.’

And the warnings extend beyond Oxford’s law department. One undergraduate studying English was given a warning about Robert Lowell’s poem For The Union Dead, because it contains a racial epithet.

She said: ‘We were warned that the poem contained a racial slur and that we could leave the room before it was read out or cover it up on the page.’

Sociologist Professor Frank Furedi, said: ‘Trigger warnings diminish the quality of intellectual freedom on campuses – as we’ve seen in America.

‘It’s really regrettable that Oxford, which used to be a bastion of academic excellence, is allowing these pressures to create conformism.’


Student Debt Reform: A Plea for the Rule of Law

The student loan crisis hovers at roughly $1.1 trillion. Politicians bicker about making college free in the future and neglect the students who didn’t benefit from student loan reform efforts. Private student debt is the leviathan in the room. Unfortunately, discussion of these issues is generally restricted to “You students took out the loans, you did it to yourselves.”

What if I told you, though, that the rule of law would fundamentally call for action on this topic?

Here’s what we know. Most college students enter their freshman year between the ages of 17 and 20. Higher education has been marketed as the path to higher earning throughout one’s lifetime. Colleges have been accused and found to have misled students with earnings and placement numbers. We know that students with private loans are not protected by federal legislation regulating federal loans. We know that lenders such as Sallie Mae take advantage of federal backing to fuel their lending practices. We also know that students cannot discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.

Now, with all of this information known, why does the rule of law mandate some form of action take place? Simple. Congress has implemented legislation to protect consumers based on similar situations.

First, let’s look at the issue of fraud and false pretenses. Common law dictates that fraud exists where an individual knowingly misrepresents material information to induce a party into an action. False pretenses exist when an individual uses intentionally misleading or wrongful information as the basis for a bargain. This is precisely why real estate contracts must reveal material terms about the property prior to purchase. If we know that colleges misrepresented their payoffs and value in order to induce students into taking out loans to attend them, fraud is not a frivolous accusation.

Second, we must look at what protections are available when an outright lie is not present but frustration of purpose exists. Frustration of purpose is present when an unforeseen event undermines a party’s principle purpose for entering into a contract. Both parties must know of the purpose. In the case of student loans, students entered into contracts to fund attendance of college for the purpose of a higher pay grade. Recession, a sluggish economy, and a lack of jobs has snuffed out the purpose of the initial contract (read as a totality of purpose).

Now, I fully acknowledge that one could reduce the contract to payment with the intent to go to college. That’s fine. But then one must confront something like “lemon laws.” Consumers are protected from enforcement of a contract where a party purchases a vehicle of such poor quality as to render itself inoperable. Analogous to student loans, someone still purchased a vehicle. Someone got exactly what they paid for. The problem is the extent to which that purchase was a quality one was restricted on the use of that resource. Precisely the same as it is in student loans.

From a public policy standpoint, the conversation around student debt, its enforceability, and the assignment of fault, the conversation is hushed. When you consider that the Department of Education, high schools, and parents were complicit in reinforcing a narrative that induced unsophisticated consumers into what amounts to mortgage payments, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. Individuals, mere months removed from having to raise their hand to get permission to use the restroom, were promised a bright future that would outpace the long term costs of pursuing the education that would unlock that future. Instead, those same unsophisticated consumers walked into a buzzsaw of predatory practices, misleading promises, and ultimately no answers when the lie was exposed.

Both the equitable and legal arguments to enforce the rule of law based upon common law principles exists. It’s astonishing that, at this point, there is no conversation about a solution. If personal responsibility is to be the hallmark of maturity and wisdom, it’s necessary that this conversation takes place. The argument in favor of action is present. Now it’s time to debate the merits and find a solution.


Identity politics is the enemy of equality

Australian campuses have become infested with victim politics

There is a growing obsession with victim politics on campus. It seems that certain groups are protected and everyone else is ignored or punished.

Take the recent events at one of Australia’s top universities. Outrage spread across the University of Melbourne campus following the discovery of anti-Islam graffiti. The chalked slogans, which were swiftly removed, stated ‘Islam is not a race’, ‘Stop the mosques’ and ‘Trump for president’.

The response was swift and furious. The vice-chancellor published a statement on Facebook within hours, asserting that the distressing and hurtful slogans ‘run counter to the vision of a safe, inclusive, connected and respectful university community’.

The University of Melbourne Students’ Union chimed in, denouncing the ‘hate speech and discrimination’ evident in the graffiti. The union proceeded to organise a ‘Chalk for Diversity’ morning, providing a free breakfast to students who wrote positive messages around campus.

But furious reaction to the graffiti was in stark contrast to way in which students and the university administration responded to another case of bigotry, just weeks earlier.

Hundreds of anti-Semitic flyers were distributed at the University of Melbourne during the first week of this academic year. The flyers, which were anonymously placed on car windscreens, stated that the Holocaust was ‘the greatest swindle of all time’ and that Holocaust Studies is ‘replete with nonsense, if not sheer fraud’.

In this case, the vice-chancellor did not take to Facebook to condemn them. In fact, the formal response to this disgraceful act was near silence. Neither the university nor the students’ union have condemned the flyers, and no events were organised to educate students about the Holocaust.

This isn’t just the case in Australia. At its recent annual conference, the UK National Union of Students (NUS) debated whether it should stop commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. Unlike Muslims, women and gays, it seems Jewish students are not a chosen victim group.

In the name of justice and equality, certain identities are now given preferential treatment over others. Students’ union officials will often openly state that a white, male heterosexual has different political interests than a black, female homosexual, and so should be treated differently.

This is a tragedy. Identity politics diminishes both individuality and autonomy. You are defined by your category, speak for your group, and are responsible for the actions of others who share your identity.

And where a victim identity entitles you to special treatment, a privileged identity permits you to be punished. The recent bake sale organised by the University of Queensland Union illustrates this new mentality.

The union charged different amounts for cupcakes based on a student’s identity. If you were a white male, you had to pay a dollar. If you were a black woman in the legal profession, it cost just 55 cents. Rather than uphold equality, students were intentionally treated differently based on their supposed privilege, or lack thereof.

Such actions damage intellectual freedom on university campuses. Rather than consider views and ideas on their own merits, the identity of the person proposing them is now the first and foremost consideration in assessing their worth.

If a white male expresses a disagreeable opinion, they are instructed to ‘check their privilege’ before continuing. This argumentative technique presupposes whether or not a perspective is valid, purely based on who is expressing it.

Some people have also been forbidden from speaking altogether. At the Australian National Union of Students’ conference, men cannot speak during debates about women’s policy, nor can white people speak about ethno-cultural issues. Your identity is considered enough to silence your viewpoint.

Every individual should be judged according to their actions and the content of their character, not assessed collectively based on factors they cannot control. In the long run, treating everyone equally is the best guarantee against discrimination. But, in today’s student politics, equality is out of fashion.


No comments: