Students Have the Right to Be Offended

At last year’s Times Higher Education World Academic Summit meeting in September, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, revealed that she’s

had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality […] And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable […] If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that […] Work out how you can persuade him to change his mind.

This was followed by an official statement from Professor Richardson on the university website, pointing out that the university has an anti-discriminatory policy which she has always supported. She did not retract any of her words from the summit.

As someone who has taught students at Oxford and elsewhere, let me say this: it is absolutely not the role of a teacher to make students feel uncomfortable.Read More »

Brexit: The View from the Moon

Edgar Mitchell steps onto the powdery grey surface, plumes of dust swirling around his feet. The land, empty except for rocks and shadows, stretches to rolling hills and a close horizon. Above him, the huge blue and white disk gleams in the black sky.

‘You develop an instant global consciousness,’ he told people after he’d returned to Earth. ‘From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”’

The Brexit referendum has encouraged some of us in Britain to see, like Mitchell, the world from a new perspective. If we are not going to be part of the European Union, what should we be part of? If we are to remain inside the EU, what are our reasons for subverting the vote? Where is our home — Britain, Europe, or the world?

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Satire in the Age of Trump

In 2001 the critic and journalist Charlie Brooker was writing fake TV listings when he realised that reality had overtaken satire:

The problem, he says, is that some TV has become so bizarre, it’s pointless to try parodying it. “Touch the Truck made the point for me,” he says, referring to the show in which contestants stood round a truck touching it for as long as possible, with the last one standing winning it. “I was seriously considering just copying the listing from the Radio Times and putting that on the site straight.

Fast forward 16 years and the words of U.S. government representatives seem to be having the same effect. Take Sean Spicer, for example: the White House Press Secretary, the man who explains to the world the position of the U.S. government, spoke about dangerous five year olds, twice burped up some random letters and numbers which may have been his password, and endorsed (presumably by accident) a headline from satirical news site The Onion which stated that his job was to ‘spread misinformation’.

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European Heartbreak

Like many people, I awoke to the news that the UK would leave the European Union feeling heartbroken, angry, and scared.

I have been a citizen of the E.U. since I was six, and now that part of my identity has been wrenched from me. I was proud to be European and British, the dream of Winston Churchill. Now I am no longer European and ashamed to be British.

I feel that a mistaken older generation have taken away the future of a younger generation. Vote statistics show that the share of ‘leave’ vote dramatically increased among the oldest voters so there is evidence to support that feeling.

I’ve never been more concerned and afraid for the future, but I I take some solace in nature and literature.

The land itself hasn’t changed. This is a social crisis on epic proportions but nature is as it was last week. The social and political crisis may yet destroy the land if we don’t do enough to tackle climate change, but for now, the land continues unchanged, unaffected by Brexit.

I still have fantasy and sci-fi to distract me, but also to inspire and guide me. I can look to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy to see how things can get better despite cataclysmic events.

I can also look to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King to see how nature can guide us:

‘Merlyn had taught him about animals so that the single species might learn by looking at the problems of the thousands. He remembered the belligerent ants, who claimed their boundaries, and the pacific geese, who did not […] Countries would have to become like counties – but counties which could keep their own culture and local laws. The imaginary lines on the earth’s surface only needed to be unimagined. The airborne birds skipped them by nature. How mad the frontiers had seemed to Lyo-lyok [a goose], and would to man if he could learn to fly’.

For the sake of peace and prosperity we must knock down walls and erase borders, whilst keeping our cultural and social identities. We should not retreat into our castles, pulling up the drawbridges. The world’s problems are our problems.