How Far Are Campuses Like Cults? 

By 2017-12-15T13:28:02+00:00on December 11th, 2017
Coercive Control|3 Comments

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.

He expands on those four features. Read what he says for yourself. Then compare, say, Lifton’s criteria of mind control.

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.

campuses like cults quoteIs 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.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

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! 



Nick is a retired psychiatrist who specialized in child and family issues. He is outspoken about better approaches to Parental Alienation. He blogs at The Alienation Experience.


  1. Nick Child December 11, 2017 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    If you like this short post, you may like a longer interview with Jonathan Haight exploring how and why it’s all happened.

  2. L. Hall December 15, 2017 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Just listening to the patronizing, bullying sneer of the man interrogating Lyndsay Shepherd was upsetting to me. I cannot imagine having to work in such an intellectually stilted environment. The irony is apparently lost on Mr Laurier. How dare he repeatedly rely upon Godwin’s Law in such a context? As for the comments on misogyny!

    The woman is NOT personally responsible for the mistreatment of Trans youth within Canadian society any more than Universities shouldn’t be environments where students might hear something contrary to their pre-existing mindsets. This is very troubling to me and I don’t even live in North America..

  3. Michael January 29, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    I don’t know what happens on North American campuses, but I have recently completed a masters in a Humanities school in a Scottish university as a (very) mature student. I found the staff and students open and highly supportive of a great diversity of views, with vigorous and civilised debate. Fellow students were infinitely tolerant of my own antiquated views and at no time did I see or experience ‘group’ think, or a culture that restricted free speech. Instead I experienced quite the opposite, with radical positions and other ways of thinking actively encouraged and explored and debated in an open and supportive culture of learning and independence of thought. What was a feature, however, was that everybody – students and staff alike – were expected to be able to argue their case and back it up with evidence – you could’ get away with just stating an opinion without saying why, and you had to expect people to think about it critically – but at no point did I experience or see dispespect for a position or opinion that people disagreed with. Indeed, having gone back to uni after a gap of 40+years, I was impressed by how much better the teaching was, and with a much greater focus on listening to students.

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