First they came for the bags of sugar, removing them from the campus shop. Then they blocked Six Nations rugby matches from being screened in the student union bar. After that coffee was targeted: Starbucks and Nestlé were subject to campus boycotts. Sombreros were next; handing out the hats at a freshers’ fair was deemed cultural appropriation.
They even tried to ban Ukip after students said that inviting its candidate on to the campus would make them feel less safe and secure.
So when the University of East Anglia discouraged graduating students from tossing mortarboards in the air during their official photograph it came as little surprise.
The university, in Norwich, which last year became the first in Britain to introduce day-time sleeping berths for hung-over students, is generating a reputation as one of our most crackpot campuses. It was the university authorities that generated headlines this week by declaring that tossing mortarboards skywards posed an unacceptable risk because it could lead to injury, not to mention damaged hats and gowns.
An offer to have flying mortarboards added digitally to graduation photographs using Photoshop, for an extra £8, did not mollify students. Its justification was given short shrift by the Health and Safety Executive, which said that the chance of being hurt by a flying mortarboard was incredibly small.
But it is UEA’s student union, housed in a brutalist concrete and glass building on the campus, that has been most active with bans and boycotts.
Tate & Lyle sugar and Starbucks coffee were barred from the campus shop over their company’s tax affairs; Six Nations rugby because its sponsor, RBS, funded fossil fuel extraction; Nestlé in protest that its baby milk powder discouraged women in poor countries from breast feeding.
They banned sales of the Daily Star (page 3) and The Sun (ditto, though it no longer features topless women). They even axed the hierarchical post of student union president and voted to share the duties between five elected officers (“a flat, collaborative structure”).
A university ranking based on free speech, compiled by Spiked, an online magazine, gave UEA its worst rating because of the union’s support for an academic boycott of Israel and ban of stereotyping jokes and offensive leaflets.
“UEA is fast becoming one of the daftest campuses in the country,” Tom Slater, the rankings editor, said. “The campus authorities have become peculiarly obsessed with censorship, health and safety and hats. It shows just how managed, regulated and controlled our universities are today.”