Brexit and Academia

2 Nov

Over the last week, British universities have been all aflutter after a junior government whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, wrote to universities requesting the names of professors teaching about Brexit and their course materials. The letter triggered denunciations of “Brexit McCarthyism”, swiftly followed by a Daily Mail campaign against “Remainer universities”. An apoplectic reaction has followed from many academics, mingled with decidedly unamusing efforts to satirise the Mail.

Two contributors to The Current Moment have made public comments on the imbroglio, and the wider issue of academia’s response to Brexit. Both are opposed to the witch-hunt initiated by Heaton-Harris but neither think universities are immune from bias. Chris Bickerton writes in The Sunday Times:

It is an irony of the EU referendum aftermath that so much time has been spent on lamenting the decline of tolerance and mutual respect by precisely those who have shown so little tolerance and respect towards those whose views on Europe differ from their own… This intolerance over Brexit is rooted in a lack of empathy with or interest in the lives of others, especially those outside one’s social circle and lower down the ladder of income and education. Rather than engage in an argument or inquire into someone’s reasons, one dismisses them as racists.

Meanwhile, Lee Jones comments on The LSE’s Brexit Blog:

It is not exaggerated… to identify a strong academic “groupthink” around Brexit. Before the referendum, many universities and their sectoral bodies campaigned openly for Remain, with zero internal consultation and no consideration of the impact on scholars and students who disagreed with this. That they now object to being called “Remainer Universities” is frankly bizarre. Without exception, every academic I have met since the referendum automatically assumes that I voted Remain, and they often proceed to make disparaging remarks about Brexit and those supporting it. My immediate colleagues are delightful people, treating me more with bemusement than hostility. But an intimate friend of 10 years’ standing, who is also an academic, cut me off completely after the referendum, accusing me of racism. I know other pro-Leave academics who have been blanked in the corridors or face derision or shouting matches for publishing articles critical of the EU and its leading politicians. One of the Guardian’s “anonymous academics” complained of being treated like a “pariah” for supporting Leave. This kind of groupthink, and the disconnection from much of the rest of society that it implies, is not healthy for scholarship or teaching.

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3 Responses to “Brexit and Academia”

  1. joellazarus November 2, 2017 at 11:03 pm #

    Well said! As an academic who could bring themselves to vote for neither option, I have also been accused of supporting and helping to foster racism and xenophobia.

  2. Julian Wells November 4, 2017 at 12:25 am #

    I was berated for an hour by a Eurofanatic colleague because I had the impertinence to compare the ECB’s actions over Greece to Hindenberg’s 1929 imposition of austerity by decree after the Reichstag rejected it.

    • Chaiman LMAO November 4, 2017 at 10:34 am #

      Oh cry me a river! More wining from Lee about the temerity of people to disagree with his eternal wisdom.

      And Julian were you really ‘berated’ for ‘an hour’. If so, pass me the world’s smallest violin.

      Firstly, it is utterly obvious and uninteresting that in all walks of life there is inherent bias / groupthink. To suggest otherwise is fantasy. The point is whether that groupthink undermines the ability of that group/profession/whatever to do their job properly. is the groupthink affecting the nature of academic writing and what take place in the classroom? So far ZERO evidence has been presented to demonstrate that. My experience is that almost are academics were against Brexit, but teach the EU in a critical fashion. Is this really a blog that thinks the two positions are mutually incompatible? Is not the case that almost any contenton the EU in any University is seeing critical engagement?

      Instead of moaning what colleagues say to you in a corridor or over lunch about Brexit, why not actually do what you are trained to do and produce proper peer reviewed research about it? And maybe think of those people who have zero right or ability to examine these issues, and think what they would think about you getting all upset just because someone disagreed with you.

      Finally all you are doing (though as ever based on tiny anecdotes rather than real evidence) is feeding the notion that there should be deep public concern about the ideas and actions of academics. If you cannot see where this leads you are as blind as you are weak.

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