Students are becoming less interested in cancel culture, a leading Harvard professor has suggested.
Arthur Brooks, Social science professor, said that the wave of academics or students who have been persecuted for their political and ideological views on campuses has “crested”.
Intense disagreements at British universities have resulted in fierce clashes between staff and students, with academics leaving their jobs as a result.
“There’s been a lot more tolerance inside British and American universities to shut down opposing viewpoints,” Prof Brooks told The Telegraph.
“I think it’s a temporary wave – it’s part of a version of a cultural revolution. When government becomes authoritarian, you can’t say what you think, and when universities do it we’ve got a big problem on our hands.”
His comments come as the Government’s free speech bill is set to become law, after attempts to water down the right for academics to sue institutions for breaching their freedom of expression were dropped earlier in February.
The bill is in its final stages in the House of Commons and will also give the Government powers to appoint a “free speech tsar” who would be able to investigate and fine universities that censor their academics.
“People are increasingly realising that across the right and left, only those on the fringes profit from it,” Prof Brooks said. “The problem is that there are bullies and bullies create terror and loathing. We have to stand up to them and you can only do that by standing up to the bullies on your own side.
“In China it’s really damaging, in the UK or in the United States not so much, though it’s still antagonistic to the intellectual proposition,” he added. “When a wave comes around that says speech is violent you’ve got a big problem.”
In 2021, Kathleen Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, quit the University of Sussex after facing death threats over her stance on transgender rights. She later described people at Sussex as having a “light in their eyes, who want social justice according to a very narrow conception that does not involve employing me”.
Last year, the universities watchdog, the Office for Students, found that nearly 200 requests for events and speakers were rejected by English universities and colleges in 2020-21, up from 94 in the previous academic year. Susan Lapworth, the watchdog’s interim chief executive, said she was concerned about the possibility that “lawful views are being stifled”.
Prof Brooks said: “The culture has become more hard-edged, a zombie religion of identity politics and also a misunderstanding of what a good life is about. That wave has crested and there’s much more interest in the good life, the whole life.”
He is also on the board of advisers at the University of Austin, Texas (UATX), launched in 2021 as the first “anti-woke” university. UATX counts Prof Stock as one of its “fellows”, while the British historian Niall Ferguson is one of the founders.
He said that students fixated on “self care” who cut off their friends over their political views have realised they make themselves unhappy.
“If you’re eliminating love relationships on the basis of disagreement, that’s the perfect way to be unhappy,” he added. “That, ‘if you disagree with me I’m going to occupy the stage and kick you off campus or I’m going to stop being your friend – that’s the way to be unhappy.”
Prof Brooks, who teaches a seven-week ‘Leadership and Happiness’ class at Harvard Business School, said unhappiness is an ordinary aspect of life.
“That’s the big misconception of our society today, for a lot of undergraduates with self-care and identity politics, is to not feel unhappiness,” he told The Telegraph. “And if they do, somebody is going to pay. You need unhappiness or you won’t get happier.”TIOB News