Theresa May announced the security services have foiled forty major terrorist plots in the last decade. They also successfully prevented Rotherham FC from winning the Champions League and the sky from turning into plasticine.
We have had, on average, a major “anti-terrorism act” curtailing vital liberties every 20 months in that period, to the point where it is illegal for me to give a talk in Westminster (see last post). We have security theatre of the absurd, everywhere. Air travel is a misery due to the war on toothpaste, but I can carry two litres of extremely flammable duty free 50% spirit on board a plane. At Waverley Station in Edinburgh a taxi can no longer enter due to “terrorism”, but they can drop me outside and I can take my 60 kg of plastic explosive in two suitcases down the elevator.
The disaster of universities today is corporatism and managerialism. It is not an excess of freedom of speech. Academics dare say very little – they spend their entire time wracking their brains as to how to produce research that will attract finance, and thus meet cash targets and not lead to redundancies and departmental closures. Universities see themselves overwhelmingly as businesses, not as self governing academic communities and centres of intellectual inquiry. In Scotland, every University Principal is on over 300,000 a year and every University Secretary on over 200,000. There are no poets or philosophers on University Courts – bean counting is the only discipline deemed relevant to university governance. A tiny number of eccentric academics are devoted to their teaching, but there is no income stream of any kind dependent on teaching quality.
Now Theresa May is going to make doubly sure no student ever hears anything interesting or inspirational, by giving University administrations – who want nothing but a profitable business – a “duty to protect” students from extremist thought. This idea is so illiberal it makes me physically vomit. The net result will be a cumbersome system of vetting for every external speaker, having to submit texts for approval in advance, to be seen by the University administration. The result will be a firm intention to discourage external speakers from appearing at all, in order to avoid the cost of this bureaucracy.
I speak frequently in universities and certainly am not going to submit my talks for pre-vetting (I always speak off the cuff anyway). In fact, if this legislation goes through, I am going to undertake spontaneous guerrilla lectures in universities, just popping up and starting talking, with no prior approval at all. I hope others may join me. We need a flying squad to preserve the very notion of academic intercourse without political constraint.