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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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Decolonising the University, or Reviving Racialism?

30 Mar

This post – a very long one by TCM standards – is a critical assessment of calls to “decolonise” universities, through close analysis of the SOAS student union’s (SSU) report, Degrees of Racism: A Qualitative Investigation into Ethnicity Attainment Gaps at SOAS. The report, issued in September 2016, caused a furor in January 2017, with headlines reporting that it accused white lecturers of racism and being unable to teach black and minority-ethnic (BME) students. The report is broadly representative of the growing demand to “decolonise” higher education, most visible in the “Rhodes must fall” campaign. Indeed, it drew attention some months after its release precisely because SOAS student union had just issued a statement demanding the “decolonization” of SOAS’s curriculum, which many newspapers reported as a call to cease studying white philosophers.

Most media reports were extremely hostile to the students’ demands. Close analysis of Degrees of Racism shows this is partly justified: the demands are often incoherent and inadvertently racialist. However, our ire is best targeted not at students but the ideology guiding them: a confused mishmash of identity politics, relativistic postcolonial theory and consumerism. It is this ideological approach that leads them to tie themselves up in knots as they struggle to identify what is alienating and dissatisfying about their university experience. Continue reading

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