Monday, October 10, 2016

British University considers banning the National Anthem from graduation ceremonies - because of its links to 'increasing far right nationalism'

Mahamed Abdullahi, a most unhappy person

A student union welfare officer has called for the National Anthem to be removed from a leading university's graduation ceremony because of 'increasing far right nationalism'.

Mahamed Abdullahi, from King's College London Students' Union, called the traditional rendition of God Save The Queen 'outdated'.

Although the suggestion was dismissed as 'petulant and disrespectful' by fellow students, the university management admitted it was 'in discussion' about the use of the song.

In an expletive-laden Facebook post, Mr Abdullahi wrote: 'I want to get rid of the national anthem at graduation because it's outdated and not reflective of the "global" values the college espouses.

'In the context of increasing far right nationalism across Europe and the legacy of the British empire, it's just a bit s*** and it doesn't even bang. Basically, f*** the nation state.'

His comments led to a petition to keep the anthem from James Findon, a member of KCL's Conservative Association.

He told MailOnline: 'We are a global university with global values. These two facts are not in conflict.

'We can be proud of our traditional British roots and celebrate our global values.'

King's College London was founded in 1829 under the patronage of King George IV. It plays God Save The Queen towards the end of graduation ceremonies.

Mr Abdullahi studied Geography as a postgraduate. His interests are described in an online profile as 'the intersection of race and gender as well as class, disability and sexuality'.

In his manifesto to become Vice President for Welfare and Community, Mr Abdullahi called the government's anti-terror strategy Prevent 'racist' and said he wanted to 'decolonise' the curriculum.

Mr Abdullahi, who was born in Denmark, studied for an undergraduate degree at the University of Reading. 

Alex Sansom, 22, who is studying for a MA in politics, called on him to 'respect the traditions of the university'.

He told MailOnline: 'It is deeply worrying that an elected student representative should promote his own political agenda with such a lack of respect for the traditions of the university, particularly on an issue of historic and cultural salience.

'For someone who condemns issues that divide us, it is bizarre that the VP should criticise the nation state - the ultimate institution to promote and enable unity amongst us.'

A spokesperson from King’s College London said: ‘We are always open to feedback from students, staff and alumni and are currently in discussion with KCLSU student officers about various elements of the ceremonies, including the use of the national anthem.

'Feedback from all members of the King’s community will be used in planning the next set of ceremonies.'

When contacted by MailOnline, Mr Abdullahi said he did not want to comment.


Here’s what Cambridge students think of their sexual consent classes: Women’s officer posts picture of empty hall as freshers boycott ‘patronising’ talks

They are the university workshops designed to inform new students about sexual consent in an effort to tackle the rising number of assaults on campus.

But in a sign of a growing backlash against such events, not a single fresher attended an hour-long session at a top Cambridge college.

The angry women’s officer at Clare College later posted pictures of the empty auditorium on social media and lambasting freshers for snubbing the event. She described the move as a ‘huge step backwards’.

In a post to accompany the picture of the empty venue, she complained: ‘This is the number of Clare College freshers who thought it worth their time to show up to the consent workshops this morning, who thought that an hour out of their morning in Freshers’ Week was too much to ask.’

The post was later deleted.

Earlier this month, students at York University staged a walkout in protest against consent classes.

Every first-year student was expected to attend the sessions, although officials insisted that they were not compulsory.

Last night Sir Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said he was heartened by the student boycott. ‘Universities are about the teaching of independent mindedness, and students should not be going along with what the NUS or anyone else is telling them,’ he said.

The row at Clare College emerged after its women’s officer – understood to be second-year history undergraduate Rosie Boxall – posted the pictures of the empty lecture hall on Tuesday on social media. Miss Boxall said Clare, whose alumni include Sir David Attenborough, had been at the forefront of tackling consent issues.

She said: ‘Clare has been leading the colleges in taking a proactive approach to dealing with sexual assault in Cambridge and to cement active, enthusiastic and informed consent as the norm in our student body. This feels like a huge step backwards.’

Union of Clare Students president Laura Minoli insisted there had been a ‘miscommunication’. But Miss Boxall denied that in a Facebook message, which has now been deleted. She wrote: ‘Students were told Sunday, emailed last night and told again this morning, so it wasn’t a miscommunication about timings.’

A Cambridge spokesman said: ‘The consent classes are a key part of our students’ introduction to university life. They are included in induction programmes, and students are strongly encouraged to attend.’

Speaking to student newspaper Varsity, Cambridge University Students’ Union women’s officer Audrey Sebatindira also expressed her disappointment.

She said: ‘In the 2014 Cambridge Speaks Out survey, 77 per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment while at Cambridge.

‘Given how pervasive the problem is, there’s no doubt that the consent workshops are necessary and more people should appreciate that.’

The National Union of Students claims that one in five students experiences some sort of sexual harassment during their first week of term.

Sexual comments, wolf-whistling when students walk into lectures, heckling in nightclub queues, and jokes about rape were all cited as examples.

First-year students attending York’s first ever sexual consent classes protested that they were being ‘patronised’.

But student union leaders said that the ‘gender-neutral’ lessons were necessary to protect the ‘wellbeing of freshers’.

Some students took to social media to comment on the row, with one complaining the session had not been listed on the official freshers’ timetable. There were also claims that such talks are ‘usually very long and dry’.

The latest twist follows claims in a national newspaper that sexual harassment and assault on Britain’s campuses remains hidden. The Guardian interviewed 100 women, who said many incidents go unreported, and the issue was compared to the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Sexual consent classes are even more widespread in the United States. Next year California will become the first state to make it mandatory for high schools to teach students about ‘affirmative consent’.


He criticised lefty thinking? Silence him!

Snowflake students are censoring everyone, and universities are to blame

Neoliberalism. To some, this one word encapsulates all that is wrong with capitalism today – from the marketisation of public services, such as health and education, to the takeover of local high streets by global, tax-avoiding corporations.

To others, neoliberalism is a vague word that signifies little other than the pseudo-radical credentials of the person using it. In 2010, professor of higher education Ron Barnett described neoliberalism as a ‘catch-all term used with little discrimination’ that has taken on the aura of a grand theoretical concept. Sociologist Frank Furedi echoes this critique, arguing that the ubiquity and lack of specificity of the word has rendered it a vacuous insult.

Most recently, Colin Talbot, professor of government at the University of Manchester, wrote on his personal blog that ‘neoliberalism is a myth. It’s a pervasive myth on one side of politics – the left. But it is nevertheless a myth.’ Talbot explains that no one identifies themselves as ‘neoliberal’, and points out that at ‘the start of neoliberalism… the state was more than four times the size it had been in 1870’.

Talbot’s blog is interesting and well worth a read, but he’s clearly not the first to claim that left-leaning academics and commentators are over-reliant on the virtue-signalling rhetoric of neoliberalism. However, he is perhaps the first to have a student lodge complaints with three heads of department at his university for putting forward such a critique. The student, an economics postgrad, called for Talbot to retract his blog post. According to The Times, he claimed that the ‘professor’s argument was not worthy of an A-Level student let alone a head of department’.

The student who complained about Talbot’s views on neoliberalism has rightly been taken to task on social media and, sensibly, the University of Manchester is taking no further action. But news that some students are prepared to make formal complaints against academics for saying something (not terribly) controversial – even if, as in this instance, the student is not taught by the professor involved – will no doubt chill academic freedom and make lecturers think twice about engaging in debate both inside and outside the classroom. It serves as a reminder that some students expect freedom from intellectual challenge and emotional discomfort rather than free speech. It adds to the anecdotal evidence of students switching courses or choosing modules specifically to avoid having their beliefs challenged.

Universities have done much to create these students who demand protection from ideas that upset them and views they disagree with. Many academics themselves have, over the past few years, legitimised a culture in which students’ complaints about their lecturers and the content of the curriculum are taken absolutely seriously and often acted on.

No student starting university this month will be able to make it through their degree programme without being asked to complete questionnaires asking for feedback on everything from their lecturer’s performance to course content to assessment methods. Universities are obsessed with gauging the ‘student voice’. Surveys are distributed at the end of each module and each academic year, culminating in the National Student Survey (NSS), completed by students bribed with Amazon vouchers and printing credits at the end of their final year. What’s more, focus groups and course reps are there for any student wishing to make a comment in between the distribution of surveys.

Universities are not just after feedback – they’re after satisfaction. The results of the NSS are often reduced to a crude satisfaction score, which is then used in the compilation of league tables. Prospective students are encouraged to use these statistics to choose the university that is right for them. Institutions therefore pour time, money and effort into ensuring students are satisfied at every stage of their university experience. For lecturers on temporary contracts, or those seeking promotion, having satisfied students is almost more important than anything else. If course content is complex or controversial, and students struggle, then the temptation to shorten a reading list or skate over a topic can be hard to resist. Many students pick up on the message that they are customers, and are, as such, always right.

This focus on satisfaction is exacerbated by a belief that students today are vulnerable to mental distress and in need of protection from anything that might be perceived as emotionally disturbing. At Oxford University, law students have been issued with trigger warnings before classes covering sexual offences. At University College London, archaeology students have been given permission to ‘walk out’ of classes if they find topics to be ‘disturbing, even traumatising’. The message to students is clear: your emotional safety is at risk in the classroom, and you have every right to avoid ideas you find upsetting.

The belief that course content is potentially traumatising stems from a view, enthusiastically endorsed by many lecturers, that the curriculum does not represent an objective body of knowledge, or the best that has been thought and said on a particular subject. Instead, it is intrinsically political. It is not students but academics who are leading the charge to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum, and insisting ‘it’s time to take the curriculum back from dead white men’. Students who run with this message and demand to know ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ are lauded rather than challenged. In 2013, students at the University of Manchester, home to Talbot and his complainant, launched a ‘Post-Crash Economics Society’. Their proposals for an ‘overhaul of orthodox teachings to embrace alternative theories’ were welcomed by academics and used to illustrate the importance of listening to the student voice.

If students are to learn anything during their time at university, they need to be confronted with complex and challenging ideas. Higher education that doesn’t make students feel intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally, uncomfortable is not an education at all. In order to push students outside of their comfort zone, academics need to be free to engage in debates, contribute to new understandings, and advance knowledge both in the classroom and beyond.

A growing and increasingly vocal minority of students do not want to confront views that upset them. They prefer to have ideas that disturb their existing beliefs rescinded. Academics should remind students that they are always free to read, learn more and take apart arguments they disagree with in classroom discussions, essays, and blogs of their own. But academics can’t do this while also promoting the importance of student satisfaction and emotional wellbeing, and arguing that the curriculum is nothing more than a political tool. Universities have helped create snowflake students who are now threatening academic freedom. They can’t just be wished away.


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