This story appeared on Campbell live last night.
Universities are traditionally the bastions of critical thought, champions of diversity and free expression – a melting pot of ideas where debate is encouraged.
So who is trying to censor a student club at Lincoln University – and why are they being bullied for their beliefs?
Note how the first paragraph sets up a straw man. “bastions of critical thought” – gosh, who would challenge that?
Then we have the shock – someone is trying to shut down non-religious voices.
Well no, not really.
Any group that takes a controversial position is going to get their posters taken down by people who oppose them. Years ago, when I was studying, no conservative group would expect any poster to last more than a few hours if it were within a short walk of the student union. Sometimes it was blatant, sometimes it wasn’t.
Now, the other side of the story is that “new atheist” groups are typically not shrinking violets either. Followers of Hitchens et al are not exactly known for being polite and respectful towards their opposition. In fact, I suspect the person(s) doing this have been taught from bitter experience that atheists consider it ok to take down opposing advertisements. In short, this is the pot calling the kettle black.
The SA president in this case takes the common sense position and points out that there’s no evidence that the club is being targeted. It gets interesting from there, as the reporter tries to suggest that disciplinary action was threatened for going to the media.
What is interesting to me is that this group is doing charity work. I can honestly say that I have never, ever heard the slightest hint of any group setup to promote the idea of the non-existence of God actually doing good works independent of that mission. I suspect most Christians would have the same observation (whether or not it’s correct). Given this, another possible motive could be that the “vandal” genuinely believes that the posters are a scam or satire and is worried about people giving money to a fake charity.
The fact is, universities are not a “melting pot of ideas”. Certain ideas rule, and other ideas are tolerated at best, but usually shouted down, insulted and belittled. Most people however simply campaign a little harder and don’t run crying to sympathetic reporters willing to run a story with all the shock value of “water is wet”.
Update: Matt at MandM has a lengthy post on the matter.
In 1996 I was involved in the leadership of a campus Christian group that was asked by the student union to leave campus for the offence of handing out pamphlets. We were threatened with security by the student president. This was made abundantly clear to the media at the time and made known to the politicians. I remember Dr Liz Gordon from the Alliance Party telling me in a Select Committee hearing on the whether student union membership should remain compulsory or not telling me “this is normal campus life” when I mentioned the incident.
In 1996 a man was asked to leave campus by Waikato University staff for preaching on campus. I witnessed it and complained to the student editor who ran a story on it.
As to posters, when I was campaigning for election to the student union executive our campaign team had a three hourly postering shift in place which we maintained throughout each day beginning at 4am where we put up posters. Why? Because the minute we had completed a postering run of the entire campus our opponents would tear them down. We had to finish and then promptly go back to the starting point to replace the torn and defaced posters.
I campaigned (successfully) for a position on the student union three times. I also campaigned in 3 referenda. Every time, it was the norm for posters to be ripped down and defaced and every time we always had at least a few days right before the ballot where we’d have to put in place 3 hourly postering rosters.
I noted above “it gets interesting” that the reporter tried to suggest disciplinary action was threatened. Perhaps I should have been less skeptical.
At this point the reporter was flabbergasted, she said she had never heard of a situation where a university did this. She also said she had never heard a hint of someone facing potential discipline for something like this.
One wonders how deeply she researched. Because in 1998, the Assignment Program approached Madeleine and I to interview us about abortion for a documentary they were filming. They asked to film us running a stall on campus. Officials high in the University called Madeleine and I into an urgent meeting. They informed us that we were not to talk to the media on campus without their consent and they demanded that the only way they would consent to the filming was if we hired (with our own money) a security guard for the filming. This was just in case another student got aggressive towards us as the university would look bad on camera if we were assaulted (Madeleine had been assaulted during a student debate and has also made more than one formal complaint about other students threatening her to the student mediator). Assignment ended up very reluctantly footing the bill for the security guard, and made a point of noting it on air.
And as to disciplinary hearings, they could have dug out the article in the Waikato Times noting how the Waikato Student Union tried to have me expelled from life membership in 2000. The reason, according to Nexus, as that my religious beliefs meant I was “homophobic.” Apparently, the best thing I did for Waikato University was to “leave it.” My beliefs about abortion were also added as justification. The meeting failed for want of a quorum – I wasn’t even given notice of it. I offered to defend my views at the next attempt and they never got around to calling it.
The article also outlines some of the abuse that both “M”s suffered during their time on campus, including Critic embellishing a true story where Madeline was assaulted into a quite nasty lie against her that they repeated continually.
One can only agree with their conclusion.
New Zealand Universities are intolerant places that get captured by factions who seek to control the flow of information and promote only their view by intimidating and censoring. The fact atheist students have now suffered is terrible but Christian and conservative groups have had to put up with this stuff for decades. I can’t help wondering if because it is now atheists that this is why the secular lefties in Campbell Live are suddenly shocked and concerned.