Communications Director Fred Pawle writes in The Courier Mail:
UNIVERSITIES used to be where young people went to become adults.
Gone were the uniforms, strict rules, tuckshop food and Saturday sports forced on them during high school.
In their place were op-shop chic, self-discipline, beers in the university bar and Saturday hangovers.
Underpinning this transition was a period of self-discovery, characterised by new-found independence and individuality, which occasionally led to a robust opposition to authority.
How times have changed. Universities are increasingly becoming places for people who are adults only in a biological sense. Raised in the era of political correctness, overprotective parents and “participation awards”, they arrive on campus not ready to take on the world, but to be protected from it.
This phenomenon is rampant in Europe and the United States, where students demand safe spaces and warnings against course content that might trigger contrived, painful feelings based on victim status according to gender, race, sexual preference or just being plain vulnerable.
British sociology professor Frank Furedi makes the disturbing conclusion that it’s not the students who are driving this change, but the universities, which in turn are merely reflecting a wider social malaise.
The “infantilisation of campus life” is based on “sentiments of human vulnerability and fragility that are widely held throughout society”, he says, pointing out that campuses these days offer, as part of their services, a wide range of ways to help students achieve “wellbeing” outside their normal studies.
A scan of Queensland universities reveals a similar situation here.
“All members of our university community have a right to feel welcome, respected and safe,” says the “Safety and wellbeing” section of James Cook University’s website.
Having qualified to enrol, all students are, by definition, “welcome and respected”. And as for being “safe” — there are laws against people making them otherwise. Not that campuses are inherently dangerous places anyway.
The University of Queensland offers a more creative form of solace for troubled students.
“Art-based therapy groups offer you an opportunity to release your emotions through art, without needing to rely on words,” it says. “Expression through art can bring you closer to your inner experiences, and develop your self-understanding.”
Any university that offers wordless therapy has strayed from the tradition purpose of a university, which is to offer a contest of ideas in the pursuit of understanding and enlightenment.
The Australian Human Rights Commission, never far from the action when it comes to finding new reasons to be aggrieved, waded into the issue of tertiary-student vulnerability this year with its National Report on Sexual Assault and Harassment at Australian Universities.
In a ham-fisted attempt to overstate the problem, it included “inappropriate staring or leering” as sexual harassment. Thus, “around half of all university students (51 per cent) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016”. Around half!
“The implications are far-reaching for students, due to their vulnerability at this stage of their life cycle where they are maturing into adults and may be away from home for the first time,” the report said.
But by wilfully overstating the problem, the AHRC is inhibiting the ability of Australian students to “mature into adults”. Official endorsement of a contrived victim status does not prepare students for postgraduate life; rather, it limits their ability to deal with the actual challenges that await them in the real world.
It would be reassuring to think that Australian larrikinism and suspicion of left-wing mollycoddling, still alive among many of the nation’s youth, will prevent this trend becoming as ingrained here as it is elsewhere.
But if Furedi is correct, the students are not just up against the universities, which are determined to impose these new, low standards of development, but the wider society, where victimhood, real or imagined, carries increasingly valued status.