For 200 years, the Oxford Union has played host to prime ministers and presidents, pop stars, prodigies and polymaths. Once, it was a matter of honour that this august debating society invited speakers to challenge the comfortable views of cosseted students.
But times have changed.
A visit to the chamber by academic Kathleen Stock has prompted an outpouring of distress, with the Union forced to offer ‘welfare resources’ to help the little darlings cope.
What monstrous opinions does Stock hold? She has ‘gender-critical views’ — she questions the typically Left-wing orthodoxy that biological sex is not at all important, and what gender an individual feels they are is the only thing that really matters.
Because of these views, shared by millions, Stock was ‘cancelled’ and quit her professorship at Sussex University in 2021. Now she faces a fresh campaign from undergraduates determined to prevent her from speaking.
The row exposes a terrible truth. Former Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan called the Oxford Union ‘the last bastion of free speech’. But that bastion has crumbled, as Oxford’s shrill students try — and often succeed — in silencing anyone whose opinions differ from their own.
I graduated from Cambridge in 2020. During my three years at the university, I gazed open-mouthed at the increasingly ridiculous parade of hypocrisy and virtue-signalling that now rules university life.
So I am not even slightly surprised by the Stock affair. What shocks me, instead, is that she was invited in the first place: few people holding even remotely controversial views are permitted to air them nowadays in our top universities.
A raft of leading names have been banned from speaking at Cambridge in recent years, from rock star Canadian philosopher Professor Jordan Peterson to historian Andrew Graham-Dixon and even veteran feminist Germaine Greer.
Only last Friday, a rabble of Cambridge students protested the visit of Simon Fanshawe, the co-founder of the gay-rights group Stonewall, who also has gender-critical views, by walking out of his lecture while brandishing the transgender flag. Outside, others did their best to disrupt Fanshawe’s speech by banging drums and shaking the doors to the building.
Read More: ‘Our two greatest universities are no longer seats of learning but of indoctrination and woke fanaticism’