For decades, we’ve heard how the humanities faculties of university campuses have been dominated by a culture that restricts free speech. An anti-oppressive ideology seeks to protect minority groups from oppression by the powerful. Campuses have their own laws and kangaroo courts to ensure political correctness is in place everywhere. This culture of restricted speech and behaviour is surprising given that universities are supposed to stimulate and challenge students in the pursuit of learning new ideas and critical thinking. And free speech is a corner stone of the free world. You’d think truth was more important than students’ discomfort.
Trent Eady’s experience in 2014 at McGill University, Montreal, was of “something dark and vaguely cultish”. So, how far are campuses like cults?
An energetic queer and political activist, Trent Eady had no problem speaking out. But he wanted to tell people about a dark chapter of his life. He wrote:
… I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. [This] is as much a confession as it is an admonishment.
OK, on campus, your physical health, your money, and your way of life won’t be as destroyed as they might be in a totalist cult. But what Trent Eady describes ticks quite a few of the cultic boxes. The campus kangaroo courts can destroy your career and your reputation. The kind of post-modern ‘truth’ or ideology behind campus culture is confusing: it exempts itself from its own principle that there is no single or objective truth. It carries unquestioned power to select those groups who are to be protected, and to discipline those who offend. This does sound like the first five of Lifton’s Criteria.
And here’s Lindsay Shepherd, a Teaching Assistant, from Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario. She taught a class on grammar and pronouns. All went well but someone complained about her material. She was summoned to a kangaroo court. But Lyndsay recorded her interview and put it online. Listen to the gentle steamrolling power of superiors who later apologised. They compare her to the Nazis. Yet they want to impose only material they would approve of. Here’s one interview that tells the whole story well.
Is this cultic? The gentle tones of the interview don’t sound like the terrors of a cult’s correction. But there’s an over-wheening mind control of what both teachers and students are allowed to hear and learn. Lindsay says of her students: “They’re adults!” Reply: “Yes, but they’re very young adults, they don’t have the critical tool kit.” Even a toddler would be upset at this patronising dismissal of ability, of the right to think and express your views.
These examples of campus culture seem uncomfortably close to the core of the ideology and functioning of a cult.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about undue influence on campus that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!