This week is ‘Fresher’s’ week in my home city – where Dundee University has just welcomed thousands of new students. In the local press they are welcomed with fine words and fine sounding ideals from the University officials. They have come to learn, develop friendships, broaden their horizons and meet some of the finest experts in their chosen field of study.
As a University chaplain I know that that is true – but it is only partially true. There is another side. This was graphically illustrated to me by a student who showed me the Welcome pack from their hall of residence – basically providing them with information on how to cope with hangovers and advising them where and how to overindulge on Fresher’s week. As an international chaplain I find it a source of constant embarrassment that many international students are bemused and offended by the banality and stupidity of a monolithic hedonistic culture, which seems to be encouraged by the University.
Perhaps the University authorities should spend less time worrying how to appease the LGBT activists who continually demand more and more compliance to their insatiable demands,(at least one University this month was insisting that all its staff sign up to the LGBTQ policy and agenda whether they agree with it or not!), and instead think about how they can create a healthier social environment which would be much more conducive to academic learning as well as social well-being? As one student told me – walking out of their flat to be greeted by drunken students didn’t exactly make them feel that they were in a ‘safe space’!
I once spoke to some third and fourth year male students who had returned early for Fresher’s week. “Why have you returned so early?” “Fresh meat!” was their sickening reply. They had come back to see how many new female students they could sleep with. This is how in our ‘PC’ culture women are treated. Of course the University and the Students Association will deny this and claim they are all about ‘respect, equality and diversity’ – but the reality on the ground, away from the ivory towers of academic offices, is very different. When you combine lots of cheap alcohol with a cheap view of sex and sexuality, and an entertainment culture that encourages both, you don’t just end up with ‘fun and frolics’. You end up with blood and vomit on the streets, grotesque behaviour and broken and shattered human beings. There are far too many students who have been ‘date raped’ and abused. Universities talk about ‘safe spaces’. Maybe they need to start thinking about how the lifestyle they encourage creates a dark and unsafe space for many?
When I complained about this once before – a fellow clergyman stated that I was ‘not up to date’. To which I heartily say ‘Amen’! I am not, and will not ever, be up to date with a society which degrades women (and men), which tells our young people that a ‘good time’ is getting out of your head on drink and drugs and giving your body to whoever happens to want it. I will not be up to date with a society that has reintroduced the slave trade in order to satisfy the sexual demands of the rich and powerful. I have no intention of being up to date with a society where the gap between rich and poor increases, as the rich and privileged are able to use globalisation to get their cheap (slave?) labour, whilst the poor are denied real access to opportunity and a real education.
There is however yet another side to this. This week I also spoke at a lunch bar organised by the Dundee University Christian Union in the Students Association building. As I walked in I met some lovely students from the ‘Redeemed Church’ who have their own student’s organisation – I love these African brothers and sisters and rejoice at their bold witness. (see photo above). And I loved the CU lunch bar. There is much to be grateful for in our Universities, not least the counter cultural radical witness of many of our Christian Unions. We need to pray for them, because it’s not always easy. Whilst DUCU has a good relationship with the University and the Students Association that is not always the case.
In another University in Scotland this week the CU were banned from handing out flyers, just because the SA did not like them. Blatant prejudice and discrimination is what many of our Christian students have to put up with. I think of another Uni where it was proving difficult for the CU to hold a seminar discussing the question of suffering because the the powers that be were concerned that it might upset people and thus break their ‘safe space’ health and safety laws. Imagine that – banning seminar on suffering because it might cause suffering! What’s next – banning a seminar on racism because it might cause racism?! Nor do they seem to care about the suffering this continual harassment causes their Christian students. Because harassment is what it is. They are not really concerned about the potential for harm – they just want to find a way to exclude Christianity from the campus – other than in its wettest and most meaningless form. My advice to that CU? Link up with our African brothers and sisters and if they try to ban you – just shout ‘racism’. That should work!
Meanwhile in the news were a couple of other items which indicate why our Universitiess are in trouble. Firstly there was the story of the vice-Chancellor from Bath who is paid £450,000 per year. Tied in with this was the fascinating comment from Stephen Gethins, SNP MP for NE Fife (which includes the ancient university of St Andrews) when, on BBC Radio Scotland, he spoke of education as an ‘industry’. That, I’m afraid is how many of our executive paid chancellors, and apparently some of our politicians, seem to regard education. But education is not an industry. It’s a public service. And I for one am grateful for the lecturers, students and other staff who recognise that. Philosophy, the arts, history and many other subjects that people study in Uni, may not be immediately economically productive, and may not result in business spin-offs on campus, but they are vital to the health of our society. Education in and of itself, is a good thing.
Let us pray for, encourage and seek to serve those who have begun the new term this week. Especially those Christians who go against the flow and are prepared to stand up for what they believe in the face of an increasing hostile culture. As our Universities forget their Christian roots and market themselves as monolithic academic businesses.they are becoming places where a diversity of views is not encouraged. In such an environment Christians are the real radicals!