Snowflake students start a storm

| April 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), in London in the UK, started 2017 by demanding that philosophers such as Plato and Immanuel Kant be deleted from the study of the history of philosophy on racial grounds. The SOAS student union has declared that philosophy syllabuses at the college should preferably emphasise influential figures from Africa and Asia.

Reports Camilla Turner, education editor for the UK newspaper The Telegraph: “The union said [the demand] is part of a wider campaign to “decolonise” the university, as it seeks to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism”.”

The demand is typical, say critics, of the general ignorance of “Generation Snowflake”. According to Wikipedia, “Generation Snowflake is a term used to characterise young adults of the 2010s as being more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations.”

The term may derive from the traditional saying that “each snowflake is unique and precious”. A puzzled Deborah Johnston, pro-director (learning and teaching) at SOAS, told Turner: “One of the great strengths of SOAS is that we have always looked at world issues from the perspective of the regions we study – Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”

The British government wants to revive the university ranking system, using student satisfaction as a key criterion. However, this may mean giving in to a range of fanciful student demands and a possible concomitant decline in academic standards, reports Turner. The Higher Education and Research Bill, championed by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, reached committee stage in the House of Lords in early January 2017.

The bill details the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Instead of being ranked on quality of research output, universities would be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals on the basis of many factors such as student satisfaction, teaching excellence and preparation for the world of work.

Ruth Lynn Deech, formerly principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, says the bill must include two amendments: “One requiring universities to protect freedom of speech within the law, so that lecturers on unpopular subjects are not shut down, and the other a law that requires universities to take steps to stop illegal speech, for example invited extremist speakers calling for discrimination,” reports Turner. 

Category: Autumn 2017

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