If there’s one thing that really gets on my nerves, it’s the idea that students today are uniquely intolerant. The explosion of campus censorship in recent years has made bashing campus politicos a kind of commentariat pastime, with fortysomething columnists wheeling the little blue-haired pillocks out each week to give them a good kicking. But while the students’ union censors deserve everything they get, all too often campus censorship has been painted as a generational phenomenon – as if undergraduates appeared from the womb with a Safe Space policy in hand.
This is a copout. It distracts from the profound, long-running trends that have undermined the value of free speech, both on campus and beyond. What’s more, it gives the campus censors too much credit, and the vast majority of students too little. Every time a speaker, a newspaper, a pop song or a novelty hat is banned on campus, the students’ union hides behind two words: democratic mandate. But, as anyone who’s ever met a student knows, students’ union officials represent no one other than their own prudish selves.
The closing of the campus-radical mind, the transformation of students’ unions from outlets for young people’s ideas and ambitions to glorified therapy centres, has driven the vast majority of students away. To pin the blame for campus intolerance on all students, most of whom will never have voted in an SU election, is to downplay the scandal of campus censorship. Students’ unions across the country are smearing their own members as soft-headed simpletons, unable to handle views they might find offensive and only ever one lads’ mag away from a spot on the sex offenders’ register.