“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge”. – That’s from a brainy man called Socrates. Another brainy man called Confucius said something very similar. What these two men had in common was an appreciation for good education. Confucius along with the rest of Chinese culture put a strong emphasis on education. Indeed they were pioneers of the university concept changing the world forever.
Socrates’ methods have informed and influenced critical thinking for over 2000 years. Based on asking and answering questions, the dialectical method encourages the defence of ones opinion, exposing its strengths and weaknesses. If ones opinions are not allowed to be heard, this process cannot take place, learning is undermined and ignorance replaces knowledge.
This week Cardiff University cancelled a lecture by prominent feminist Germaine Greer after Rachel Melhuish started a petition. Her objection was regarding Greers recent comments about Caitlyn Jenner and transgender people in general. Greer has refused to temper her controversial position claiming that although she is happy for people to pursue transgender procedures she doesn’t accept that a man opting for transgender treatments will ever result in a woman.
I don’t happen to necessarily agree with Greer on this, nor do I think that her opinion would make for particularly deep, interesting or long debate. This is neither here nor there. For starters she wasn’t going to Cardiff to even discuss transgenderism, but even if she were should anyone take it upon themselves to censor one persons opinion and stifle debate?
Universities are supposed to be bastions of intellectual pursuit, rigorous places of learning and challenging to ones preconceptions. If debate isn’t even encouraged to happen in the first instance, if students are denied the opportunity to hear things they may not have heard before it is to the detriment of their learning and they cease to function as anything more than certificate dispensaries.
We could lay the blame at the door of Rachel Melhuish, and certainly her aim of barring Greer from speaking was both intellectually dishonest and cowardly. She should aired her views and had a debate, not try and silence her opposition and abusing her position as a student union official. That said, you can’t put too much blame on someone with a strong opinion who feels like the underdog trying her all to “do whats right”. The final decision to cancel Greer lay with the university who quite frankly should have known better.
Unfortunately this is indicative of an institution more concerned with its public relations image than its supposed purpose of educating. Universities primary concern since the arrival of tuition fees has been making a profit and as any business knows courting controversy makes for bad business. What this means in the long run is a compromised service. Another example of just why commodifying education is only in the interests of the shareholders.