Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

University Research Is Losing Its Independence

By Peter Bowditch

Universities can no longer be relied upon to allow unconventional voices to be heard – unless there’s sponsorship attached.

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Universities in the English-speaking world seem to be moving away from the idea of what a university should be and toward institutions that are driven by money and customer demand. The type of problem varies from place to place.

The trend in the UK, for example, is “noplatforming”, where protests are held to prevent people with controversial opinions from speaking at events held on university campuses because exceptions need to be made to the principle of freedom of speech.

In the US it seems to be the infantalising of students in order to protect them from challenging or potentially offensive material being presented in lectures or reading material. In one outstanding case a professor was disciplined because a student in a tertiary-level English class objected to the racism inherent in the word “niggardly” – which means “miserly”.

(Not understanding etymology is not confined to undergraduate students. I saw someone with a PhD in linguistics criticise the use of certain terms because they “denigrate” members of certain racial groups. The word “denigrate” descends from a Latin expression meaning “to call something black”.)

Neither of these things is confined to just one country, and another thing that seems to be everywhere is a form of relativism applied to scientific matters. Universities must be places where ideas can be floated and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.