A debate on abortion organized by Oxford Students for Life was slated for Tuesday at the university’s Christ Church college, featuring historian Tim Stanley on the pro-life side and Brendan O’Neill, a blogger and occasional contributor to these pages, taking the pro-choice position. You’d think exposing students to contending views presented by prominent thinkers was part of a university’s core function.
Left-wing student activists had other ideas. One group encouraged its supporters to take along “oh-so-disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate.’” The Oxford student union’s women’s campaign, or WomCam, called for the event to be canceled, since “it is absurd to think we should be listening to two cisgender men debate about what people with uteruses should do with their bodies.” (“Cisgender” apparently is what we’re supposed to call men and women who identify with their physical sex.)
To its discredit, the Christ Church student union cancelled the event. This is part of a broader pattern of intolerance in British higher education. In June the student union at University College London banned a Nietzsche club for promoting what it called a “racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Marxist and anti-worker” worldview. A number of student unions have banned or proposed to ban the Sun newspaper, owned by the same company as this newspaper, over its Page Three content, which often features scantily clad women.
A report released this week by the Institute for Public Policy Research and totaljobs.com warned that too many British students are leaving school without necessary skills. Measured by employment rates, vocational apprentices now fare better than recent university graduates. Here’s a thought: Being able to define “cisgender” doesn’t count as a useful skill, and schools that allow students to stifle free debate are depriving them of the intellectual skills that used to be the point of a liberal-arts education.