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Renewing academia

The Centre for Heterodox Social Science represents a positive alternative to a field increasingly dominated by progressive ideology

Artillery Row

This Thursday, at an event in London, I officially launched my Centre for Heterodox Social Science at the University of Buckingham, with words from Professors Niall Ferguson and Matthew Goodwin, and Buckingham Vice-Chancellor James Tooley.

We seek to create the only explicitly non progressive-dominated social science research centre in Britain. Meanwhile Buckingham is the only one of 181 British higher education institutions to dedicate itself to academic freedom and viewpoint diversity above ‘social justice’ ideology. And while there are as many as 150 classical, religious or free market academic centres in America, this will be one of the few focusing on ‘softer’ social sciences such as sociology and psychology which have been the most thoroughly corrupted by cultural left ideology.

While cancel culture makes the news, the vast iceberg of peer-driven self-censorship goes under the radar

This can’t come soon enough, because the modern university is in crisis, which means our truth-based order is in peril. Indeed, universities are now transmitting a deeply illiberal and irrational ideology, woke, into the wider elite and youth culture. Woke is the sacralisation of historically marginalised race, gender and sexual identities. This means that it prioritises equal outcomes and emotional harm protection for totemic minority groups over truth and freedom. Anyone who asserts that someone’s speech offends a member of such a minority, or upholds the unmeasurable substance known as ‘structural’ discrimination, must be cancelled or sidelined. ‘Diversity and equity’ refers to equal outcomes, demanding quotas and discrimination against whites, Asians or males. ‘Inclusion’ means emotional harm protection, resulting in censorship and cancel culture.

Truth and freedom in the university are under assault from two directions, punishment and prejudice. Woke punishment involves university administrators firing, expelling, censoring or disciplining people for legal speech. Woke prejudice entails peer pressure to not hire, fund, promote or publish dissenting academics, or to socially exclude them. Think of punishment as the ‘vertical,’ top-down threat, and prejudice as the ‘horizontal,’ peer-to-peer threat, to academic freedom. Both chill speech, creating a hostile environment for dissenters, driving them away. Over time, this produces a monoculture, which in turn makes both punishment and prejudice worse, creating a doom loop which ultimately results, for example, in the left outnumbering the right 82-1 among Harvard academics.

Britain’s new Higher Education Freedom Act is designed to check the power of universities to punish speech. However, it can do little about the political discrimination which so effectively enforces conformity. US student data shows that peer pressure has a bigger impact on academic freedom than fears of institutional punishment. Harvard’s Roland Fryer reveals how he was hounded by peers – even requiring an armed guard – for publishing his finding that black Americans were not shot by police at higher rates than whites. Gender-critical feminists like Jo Phoenix and Kathleen Stock have been ostracised to the point of nervous breakdowns.

Ideology has warped the truth-seeking mission of academia

My work finds that 1 in 3 British academics would not hire a known Leave supporter for a job, and just 1 in 5 Leave-supporting social scientists would reveal this view to a colleague. 3 in 4 conservative social scientists at elite universities self-censor. As one of my survey respondents commented in a text box, ‘I have had research ideas that I have not pursued as I think they would have negatively impacted my career.’ This is confirmed in a study of articles in law journals, which found that random readers could identify left-leaning scholars from their published work, but not conservative scholars, because the latter concealed their views. While cancel culture makes the news, the vast iceberg of peer-driven self-censorship goes under the radar.

Only centres like mine that are explicitly designed to be non-woke — ensuring that dissenters form a critical mass — can check the stranglehold of peer-driven political prejudice that has birthed today’s academic monoculture.

The Centre fits within a wider transnational effort to rebalance our culture toward truth and freedom, away from cultural left dogma. This counterculture is well in train in the media, but institutions lag behind. For academia, a new alternative ecosystem of universities, centres, journals and funding bodies – which address neglected questions and perspectives — is beginning to emerge. We want to be at the heart of this cultural efflorescence.

Society needs academia to study neglected topics such as the woke left — as with my new open online course on this topic, not just the populist right. A truth-seeking academia must dispassionately evaluate arguments that disparities are due to factors other than discrimination. A wider range of explanations for the link among young people between left-wing beliefs, LGBT identification and mental illness need to be considered. Educationalists must be more even-handed in assessing the effects of punishment, metrics and streaming. Finally, while inequality is important, so is social cohesion, excellence and freedom.

Ideology has warped the truth-seeking mission of academia, something our centre, and those who stand with us, seek to counteract in the years ahead.

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