Cambridge is a case study on how to save free speech
You have to grab your victories where you can in this life. And the Telegraph and – ahem – this author should claim a small victory in one of the ongoing struggles of our time. As this newspaper pointed out, one of our nation’s ancient crown jewels – the University of Cambridge – was recently gunned down by a run-of-the-mill and ill-equipped Canadian lawyer by the name of Stephen Toope.
This Dickensian name character has spent his time as Vice Chancellor trying to turn his institutional Rolls Royce into another mundane automatic group thought. A sort of Canadian bar without thrills. Or the salary.
Toope’s latest idiocy was his proposed “Change Culture” initiative. Among other things, this was intended to allow students and donors to learn about each other anonymously.
Concretely, the forum would encourage the reporting of so-called “micro-attacks”. These are insults in the eye of the beholder so tiny that they can in fact be entirely imaginary. Other things Toope wanted to include as a reportable offense was raising an eyebrow by anyone in Cambridge while a member of a minority group was speaking.
Fortunately, the forces of reason prevailed. As a result of negative publicity, Toope had to embarrassingly retreat. Days after his plans were made public, he issued a statement saying parts of the proposals should never have been published, had been “included in error” and that the website of would-be informants around the world would be shut down. until further notice.
Mr Toope did not say the dog ate his website. But other than that, he produced the whole gamut of excuses. A freshman would be ashamed to produce a job as crass as Toope’s, or to make such blatantly lame excuses.
This followed an earlier embarrassment for Toope. At the end of last year, Dons rejected his new speech “guidelines” for all members of the university. Toope tried to insist that they show “respect” for other points of view. Donations rightly rebelled, claiming that the best they could muster for some nonsense would be “tolerance.” It was a master class.
For now, Cambridge donations still tolerate the appalling Toope. But the flashback that has been forced upon it twice in a matter of months indicates a small but important lesson in the cultural battles of our time.
People who insist that they know everything so well that they would dare to tell us what words we could use or what facial muscles we could contract don’t actually know much. They are pompous, ill-informed bureaucrats who seem to view academia as a delicious and lucrative racket.
From Cambridge and a small number of other recent cases, the rest of us have learned important lessons. We have to counter these people. We need (to use one of their own favorite expressions against them) to “call them out”. We have to ask ourselves who the hell they think they are to impose their stupid, semi-constructed dogmas on us. Not to mention some of the brightest people in the country.
We have to taunt them, ridicule them and chase them away. To adapt HL Mencken, we have to hoist dead cats in their supposed sanctuaries and go for a walk on the highways of learning.