The nanny university?
Over the weekend I was searching through university websites and news reports on a number of different universities for quite specific purposes. A by-product of my research was something else entirely: a list of things, products and activities that these universities had banned recently. The banned items included fizzy and sugary drinks, smoking (inside and outside), rightwing political speeches, communist literature, condoms, chewing gum, social networking, kissing, streaking, spitting, alcohol, high heels, hoodies, guns, cameras, dogs, toilet paper.
My point here is not related to these individual items or activities – I will let you speculate about the reasons for some of these bans. Rather, the question I am interested in is whether universities now routinely over-regulate student life. When I was a student the only ban that I can remember – but one which exercised many students – was a prohibition in the student residences of overnight guests of the opposite sex (what we called the ‘anti-heterosexual rule’). An attempt by the university occasionally to enforce this rule was the source of significant student entertainment. But nothing much else seemed to exercise the university authorities.
Of course we are right to be concerned about issues such as public health and safety, and some rules are inevitable. But do we need to cocoon students from all experiences we would regard as questionable? Is there an appropriate level of protection beyond which we should not step? Or are we just living out the consequences of training too many lawyers?
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