I find this suggestion by James Smith deeply plausible, echoing a point made by Will Davies last year that ‘free speech’ is becoming the unifying principle of a right-wing in the process of recomposition:

a successor conservative movement to Trumpism with appeal to many nominal centrists would be one that retains Donald Trump’s break with political correctness, his antifeminism, his Islamophobia. But which obscures those views by stepping up the culture war rhetoric about free speech and identity politics on college campuses (about which Trump cares little), while striking a slicker “evidence-based” technocratic tone.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-smith/steven-pinker-jordan-peterson-neoliberalism-radical-right

This is the most enticing call for papers I’ve seen in ages. My promise to focus exclusively on my (still horribly unfinished) books for the foreseeable future is getting severely tested:

Who’s a Bully? Civility, Authoritarianism, and Power in the Contemporary Academy

For its next volume, scheduled for publication in fall 2019, the AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom seeks original, scholarly articles that consider how “bullying” is implicated in conflicts taking place around discourses of civility and academic freedom. How do admonitions of “civility” operate along lines of power? How do authoritarian cultural and political formations impact practices of academic freedom? We will consider any essay on the topic of academic freedom but are especially interested in the following:

  • Precarity, identity, and labor: How do discourses of civility operate in terms of social and labor hierarchies in the university? How do such conflicts travel along lines of race, class, gender, national origins, and sexuality? How does the increased precarity of academic labor effect issues of civility and power for students, administrators, faculty, and staff? How are these issues related to struggles over “sanctuary campuses”?
  • Campus discourse: What is the relationship between “civility” and academic freedom in the classroom, administration, and campus in general? Why are colleges and universities real and imagined sites for broader issues of civil comportment? How do conflicts around “civility” and power impact workplace democracy and faculty governance? How do these issues extend to K–12 education?
  • Globalization: What are the challenges for academic freedom in an era of globalization? How does the rise of popular and governmental authoritarianism affect academic freedom? Are conflicts around civility and power transnational? How might international solidarity movements respond to these challenges?
  • Social media and communications: How is social media an arena for conflicts around “civility” and power, and how does that impact academic freedom? How do these conflicts take shape in libraries and archives? How does the proliferation of university policies around the use of technology enact questions of civility and power?
  • Private consulting and university discourse: The rise of private educational consulting firms and their use by university and college administrations brings corporate discourse into key institutional decisions. This raises questions of power and civility from actors often not publicly represented in governance processes. How does corporate discourse impact questions of academic freedom?

Electronic submissions of no more than 8,000 words should be sent to jaf@aaup.org by March 1, 2019, and must include an abstract of about 150 words. We welcome submissions by any and all faculty, graduate students, and independent scholars. If you have any questions, contact me at rbuff@uwm.edu.

While this is an academic journal with submissions subject to peer review, we welcome innovative and journalistic prose styles. The journal uses the seventeenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, and authors should anticipate that, if an article is accepted for publication, it will need to be put into Chicago style. Read more about the Journal.

I just stumbled across the ‘Free Speech University Rankings’ produced by Spiked Online. As one does, I immediately looked up my own institution. Warwick has been given a ‘red card’ but not, as one might expect, relating to the recent police action on peaceful protesters but rather because the student union has banned The Sun:

The University of Warwick and Warwick Students’ Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech. The university, which has received an Amber ranking, restricts material that is ‘likely to cause offence’. The students’ union, which has received a Red ranking, has instituted bans on the Sun and the Daily Star, launched a campaign to have ‘offensive’ wallpaper in a local bar removed and banned ‘prejudiced’ entertainers from performing in the union. Due to the severity of the students’ union’s actions, the institution’s overall ranking is Red.

http://www.spiked-online.com/free-speech-university-rankings/profile/warwick#.VSTWpmavXZs

As I wrote a couple of months ago, it seems to me that we’re seeing an unprecedented attack on academic freedom at universities:

We’ve already seen the police ask a university for attendees of a fracking debate. The president of the Lancaster Student’s Union was warned by police, who she discovered taking photos of her office, that she may have been committing a public order offence by displaying a poster in her office window. Police used CS gas and pulled a taser on Warwick students who were screaming in terror.  They launch secret operations to spy on peaceful student protestors. University staff are increasingly expected to function as proxy border guards. Police violence is increasingly an expectation at student protests, including some astonishing and egregious instances of brutality. Punitive bail conditions are becoming the norm for student activists and some university managements have gone out of their way to exclude and persecute ‘trouble makers’.

http://www.spiked-online.com/free-speech-university-rankings/profile/warwick#.VSTWpmavXZs

But the self-professed freedom lovers of Spiked, who believe “university is a place for saying the unsayable and thinking the unthinkable”, want to spend their time campaigning against motions to ban pornography on university campus enacted by students unions which for all their many flaws are the only democratic organisations on said campuses?

Earlier today I read a Guardian article on the ‘crisis around debate’ at UK universities. It was a well written article with a valid argument that made some interesting points and to a certain extent some of these concerns had occurred to me in recent years. I’ve long been a proponent of no platform and it’s an issue I feel extremely strongly about – I helped lead the (unsuccessful) campaign to keep it in place at the Warwick SU and my relationships with quite a few people never really recovered from arguments over those few weeks. But I see no platform as a very specific strategy to deal with a very specific enemy. I find its effective generalisation extremely worrying, even if I sometimes share the hostility to those it is directed at.  So in one sense I found the article to be a perfectly valid contribution to an important debate.

But in another sense, I found the article to be almost offensively stupid. It holds up left-wing student activists as the source of ‘a crisis around debate’ at UK universities at a time when parliament is considering a bill which, as the THE summarises, would mean universities “have a statutory duty to implement measures that prevent radicalisation that could lead to acts of terrorism”. Radical advocates would be barred from speaking on campus. Every local authority would be required to to “set up a panel to which the police can refer ‘identified individuals’ who are considered to be vulnerable to radicalisation” with universities as partners of local authorities in this process. We risk drifting into a police state – the words of the chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, not my own – while the Guardian is blaming this on student activists?

We’ve already seen the police ask a university for attendees of a fracking debate. The president of the Lancaster Student’s Union was warned by police, who she discovered taking photos of her office, that she may have been committing a public order offence by displaying a poster in her office window. Police used CS gas and pulled a taser on Warwick students who were screaming in terror.  They launch secret operations to spy on peaceful student protestors. University staff are increasingly expected to function as proxy border guards. Police violence is increasingly an expectation at student protests, including some astonishing and egregious instances of brutality. Punitive bail conditions are becoming the norm for student activists and some university managements have gone out of their way to exclude and persecute ‘trouble makers’.

But the ‘crisis of debate’ is being caused by left-wing activists? Get real. If we consider this broader context for even a moment then this case is offensively stupid at best and mendacious misdirection at worst.

I’m currently listening to BBC Any Questions and, perhaps predictably, it’s filled with UKIP supporters following their success this week. Its astonishingly depressing stuff. But one recurrent feature has been the notion that politicians have continually suppressed free debate on immigration by “playing the race card” until Nigel came to their rescue and allowed the “silent majority” to freely voice their concerns. One caller I found particularly interesting said: “anyone who criticises an ethnic minority group in this country would be immediately labelled a racist. Then there would be those lazy analogies where anyone who criticises ethnic minorities is said to lead to the gas chambers”.

The point here seems to be an expectation of criticism free speech rather than free speech – why do so many seem to believe that their views being criticised amounts to views being suppressed? I think a lot of these people are effectively trying to say “you’re being racist about racists” i.e. those inclined to criticise ‘ethnic minority groups’ are being treated unfairly, reduced as complex persons to this one particular trait that is the target of their critics. It’s a reflection of the same tendency which leads some to argue, with seeming seriousness, that “posh people are the last persecuted minority”.

Those making this argument don’t see themselves as racist, with ‘racist’ being a term seen to imply imminently genocidal inclinations*, but rather as having ‘legitimate fears and anxieties’ targeted at ‘ethnic minority groups’ (understand as homogenous blocs). So to be called racist is experienced as an impediment to their articulation of these anxieties… until Mr. Farage comes along to stand up for this ‘silent majority’.

*I suspect answers to the question “what is a racist?” vary significantly along party lines.