A climate of political correctness in universities and colleges is stifling open debate, according to lecturers in Germany.
A new survey of more than 1,100 professors and academics found that four in five believe members of far-right groups such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party should be able to air their views “without fear of reprisals”, according to The Times. And 72% think they should be allowed to refuse to use gender-neutral language.
Yet more than a third of academics say they have felt compelled to limit their teaching because of the strictures of political correctness.
The research – commissioned by centre-right think-tank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the German University Association – follows “a spate of claims that left-wing students have attempted to silence lecturers with unwelcome views”, the newspaper reports.
In October, economics professor Bernd Lucke, who co-founded the AfD but later quit the party, was placed under police protection after students disrupted his lectures at Hamburg University, as Deutsche Welle reported at the time.
And Susanne Schroter, an expert on Islam at Frankfurt’s Goethe University, faced calls to resign last April after holding a debate on whether the headscarf was a symbol of “dignity or oppression”.
The new study found that while the majority of lecturers think they should be allowed to invite a right-wing populist to a panel discussion, 74% believe they would encounter considerable resistance from students or the university management, reports Berlin-based newspaper Die Welt.
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Despite such opposition, more than two out of five academics also believe climate change deniers should be allowed to speak at universities, and one in four say it should be permissible to oppose Islam.
The freedom of speech fears revealed in the survey have been seized on by the AfD as evidence of what the right-wing party has called a “dictatorship of opinion” in public life.
In 2015, “gutmensch”, meaning an overly politically correct person, was named Germany’s word of the year.
Often translated into English as “do-gooder”, the word was selected because it defames “tolerance and helpfulness as naive, dumb and worldly innocent, as having a helper syndrome or as moral imperialism”, linguist Nina Janich told German media.