Theologian Dr Mike Higton, a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, has presented the fourth Dr Rowan Williams Annual CUAC Lecture, sponsored by Colleges & Universities of the Anglican Communion. It was given at Trinity College, Toronto, earlier this month.
In a lecture exploring how universities can be “good” – in the Christian sense – while also being good at the many other things expected of them, Dr Highton defended universities against charges they are seedbeds of “political correctness”
What the press and others pillory as “political correctness” is in truth “the sometimes awkward, sometimes heated attempt to identify the forms of exclusion prevalent in our society…and track down the roots of those forms of exclusion” he said. This difficult but essential negotiation “is not a distraction from the proper business of universities, but an inevitable and proper accompaniment to real learning.”
Dr Higton argued that certain campus debates are a symptom of the ongoing exploration of the nature of real learning:
“One could look, therefore, at recent debates about, say, the ‘no platforming’ of controversial speakers (think Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, for instance), or debates about the removal from Oxford college facades of statues of infamous figures from Britain’s colonial past, or the furore in a Yale college about cultural appropriation in students’ Halloween costumes, or the rise of the practice of giving trigger warnings before lectures that include disturbing content, or the recent publicity given to the Students Union at SOAS in London and their campaign to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ (falsely reported as a campaign to kick Plato and Kant off the philosophy curriculum for being white). The existence and fierceness of all these debates are not signs of some fundamental breakdown in university life, still less of some easily dismissed immaturity on the part of snowflake students. They are not yet more evidence of the sorry decline lamented in my jeremiad. They are evidence of the on-going, complex negotiation of the openness of the university learning community.”
The model of the virtue-based university, he argued, could be found in Rowan Williams’s notion of “interactive pluralism,” in which “multiple distinctive voices are included, multiple identities and histories, in intense, serious, difficult conversation with one another.”
The full text of the lecture can be found here