Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 7. April 20th, 1950
Tolerance in the University
Tolerance in the University
A Considerable howl was raised in the Press letter columns—and an even greater one in the leader columns—when a motion at Congress commented on the Chancellor's remarks about "communism in the university" as the headlines had it.
The main tenor of the Press comments—we think of one leader in particular—was that this view was (a) Idealistic, because we shouldn't be allowed to have communists holding teaching posts for practical reasons, whatever merit "freedom of expression" might have and (b) just the silly opinion of a group of irresponsibles who knew no better. Freedom of speech, we were informed, was an outdated and 19th century liberal idea which had no relation to the political necessities of the present day. The authors of the motion were therefore either communists or impratical idealists who ought to go to Russia and see whether the situation there pleased them. Allow free speech to those who planned to overthrow civilisation!!! The righteous indignation of "every right-thinking citizen" was aroused. There was sinister talk of cutting bursaries to university students who could express such silly and outrageous and wicked and subversive ideas. Freedom of speech (even if our main criticism of the Russian system was for its lack of such freedom) could never be allowed to seep into the universities. Why, the young might be led astray by these people whose ideas are heretical! Of course, it was all in a line with what one expected of the irresponsible university student, who just didn't have an appreciation of the hard cold facts of political needs.
Some two months later, a gathering of British scientists (the Association of Atomic Scientists) is quoted as having decided that "the effect of the development of science and the advancement of knowledge" of the purge being implemented would be "disastrous." "Men of proven ability and distinction" they said "are being replaced by others of lesser attainments who have the recommendation of political conformity."
This is very much what was said by the authors of the motion: that the place of a university in the community was, among other aims, to seek knowledge disinterestedly. And this cannot be done when any viewpoint is a priori beyond discussion, nor when men are chosen for "political conformity" rather than ability.
And the gathering of British atomic scientists? Were they, too, all communists and idealists and impractical dreamers who don't know the hard facts of political necessity? Are they, too, all irresponsibles who will know better when they grow up? Should they all be sent to Russia to observe the lack of freedom which is "the aftermath of applied communism"—and perhaps to prepare them for its introduction into our society? Should their livilihood be cut off because the nation cannot bear to support or encourage anyone whose ideas are "heretical"?
It is blatantly a concotion of fanatical and hysterical nonsense. The British scientists, like the students here, are concerned with the growing intolerance in our society. They would, if it weren't so sobering, be cynically amused at the sight of our society proceeding to introduce just that intolerance which it attributes to its "heretics." In ordinary life it is alarming enough to view the spectacle of society suppressing every liberal viewpoint because it is heretical, but in a university, the effects would be disastrous.
(We have just been informed that there will be a debate on this subject on Friday night—April 21.)