When did believing in biological sex become a thoughtcrime?
A law student could be kicked off her university course for saying ‘women have vaginas’.
Universities are no longer that bothered about educating students. At least, not if ‘educating’ means imparting knowledge; facilitating discussion and debate; or encouraging students to read widely, ask questions and engage in research by themselves. So preoccupied have universities become with policing students’ views that education now plays second fiddle to a seemingly far more important project of training students to conform to a woke worldview.
This is the only possible explanation for what has happened to Lisa Keogh, a law student at Abertay University in Dundee. Keogh is currently facing formal disciplinary proceedings and possible expulsion from her course. Her crime? Keogh transgressed. She dared to question a central tenet of wokedom – that sex is nothing more than a label arbitrarily assigned at birth and that self-declared gender is all important.
Keogh is being investigated for saying, during a seminar on gender, feminism and the law, that women have vaginas and are not as physically strong as men. She told The Times: ‘I didn’t intend to be offensive but I did take part in a debate and outlined my sincerely held views. I was abused and called names by the other students, who told me I was a “typical white, cis girl”.’ For blaspheming in this way, Keogh’s ambition to become a lawyer may now lie in ruins.
Subjecting a student to disciplinary proceedings for comments like this makes little educational sense. Did she say something untrue? Presumably the university could call in the biology professors to adjudicate and, in the process, teach students some science. Or was it that she said something that went beyond the remit of the specific module? Plenty of radical feminists are also of the view that women have vaginas and that physical differences between the sexes are real. So is an entire strand of feminist thought now outlawed from a module specifically intended for the study of gender and feminism? The government has launched repeated enquiries into the law around gender recognition. So are law students now prevented from discussing these important legal issues?
Any professor worth his or her salt would have used Keogh’s comments as an educational opportunity. She opened up important points for discussion that could allow the entire class to learn more about science, feminist theory and the law. Keogh is also being investigated for having objected to her classmates’ use of ‘sweeping statements’ such as ‘all men are rapists’. Again, what a great opportunity to show the importance of linguistic clarity when discussing the law. But instead, Keogh is being formally investigated because her comments were considered ‘offensive’ and ‘discriminatory’.
Student lawyers that wilt at arguments they disagree with are in for an almighty shock when confronted with the reality of an adversarial courtroom. If they find words alone too offensive to contemplate, they will not be able to deal with the actual crimes those appearing in court are alleged to have committed. If students can’t discuss the possibility that men might be stronger than women in the safety of an academic seminar, how can they possibly deal in the courtroom with the graphic details of a murder or rape?
Debate should be at the very heart of higher education. Keogh knows this better than her lecturers. ‘You have got to be able to freely exchange differing opinions otherwise it’s not a debate’, she says. But in the woke university, dissent is forbidden. Students are expected to fall in line or keep quiet. During a seminar, which was held on Zoom, the lecturer in charge allegedly muted Keogh and prevented her from participating. When it is this easy to shut students up, no wonder so few lecturers are demanding a return to face-to-face teaching.
Universities are becoming less concerned with higher education and more concerned with indoctrinating students into woke ideology. Students are subjected to consent classes, diversity training and disciplinary codes that police what can and cannot be said in lectures and seminars. Students might leave university having read little, discussed less and unable to formulate a critical thought. But they will be fluent in an ever-shifting woke vocabulary and know the exact phrases required to have blasphemers cancelled.
Perhaps this was the teachable moment. Abertay University’s definition of misconduct includes ‘using offensive language’ and ‘discriminating against gender reassignment’. The language echoes a great deal of national legislation around the Equalities Act, the recording of non-crime hate incidents and the Malicious Communications Act. Abertay’s sweeping definition of ‘offensive’ is also reflected in workplaces up and down the country. In silencing and investigating Keogh, Abertay university is, tragically, doing exactly what higher-education institutions everywhere now seem to view as their primary role: preparing young adults for the woke workplace. In the process, the students in their charge become illiberal, intolerant and ignorant.
For all our sakes, we need universities to wake up to the importance of academic freedom, lest they indoctrinate another generation into the woke worldview.
Joanna Williams is a columnist at spiked and director of Cieo, where she recently published How Woke Conquered the World.
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