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Bias does exist within British universities, it shouldn't matter that an MP wants to examine it


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The only thing less surprising than a man of the right suspecting left bias in universities would be the existence of left bias in universities. Both are well-established facts of modern life, ever lamented by the Adam Smith Institute and denied by vice-chancellors across the country.

There is another rule which we ought to remember: those that tend to be most quick to anger when they suspect they have been accused of something tend to be guilty. Anger is a typical and political response to an inquiry into one’s own faults, produced by alarm and for the purposes of deflection.

This has been displayed most recently in the response of academics to a letter sent by the Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris. The letter was sent to a number of universities and asked for a list of lecturers teaching on ‘Brexit’ as well as links to course material.

I republish the text of his letter in full, for it is useful when analysing the backlash.

‘I was wondering if you would be so kind as to supply me with the names of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.

Furthermore, if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged.

I sincerely hope you are able to provide me with such and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Heaton-Harris MP

Member of Parliament for Daventry.’

The response was predictable. Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, suggested that Mr. Heaton-Harris was compiling ‘what looks like a register of Brexit heretics’. She also accused him of acting like ‘a pound shop McCarthy’, in reference to the shamed Senator Joseph McCarthy, who during the Red Scare, accused built a career erroneously accusing individuals of communist links.

Nor was she alone in making the comparison; Sally Hunt, who is Chair of the University and the College Union, said: ‘This attempt by Chris Heaton-Harris to compile a hit list of professors has the acrid whiff of McCarthyism about it.’

And Professor David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester: ‘When I read this extraordinary letter on Parliamentary paper from a serving MP, I felt a chill down my spine. Was this the beginnings of a very British McCarthyism?’

And so on.

Mr. Heaton-Harris’s position isn’t helped by the fact that he is a government whip, but it should be noted that his letter made no reference to his position and was quite clearly written in his capacity as a serving MP. Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, was doubtless right to say that Mr. Heaton-Harris probably oughtn’t to have written the letter in the first place, but he is likewise right to say that some of the criticism levelled at him - such as the suggestion, by Lord Patton, that the letter amounted to ‘idiotic Leninism’ – went too far.

University lecturers sit at the top of several demographic piles which indicate susceptibility to Remainism. Educated, well-off, metropolitan, liberal; mostly Labour voters, but of that stratum of the Labour Party which is most identified with the Blair era, and which wouldn’t recognise Bennite ideology if it leaped out at them from a (scrupulously impartial) textbook. One needs only to peruse the Twitter feeds of these academics to see how hostile they are to anything which does not abide with their ideas and views.

The stated concerns of this profession, which have to do with the touchy subject of academic freedom and freedom of expression, are ironic when they emanate from those who have no qualms with totalitarian no-platforming policies and impose speech codes, 

They are merely hypocritical when spouted by anyone else, for aggressively presuming bad intent and using it to justify rejecting Mr. Heaton-Harris’s request is the very sort of defensive groupthink which lends weight to the suggestion that ideological homogeneity on campus harms free inquiry. It has been suggested that Mr. Heaton-Harris’s intent was to gather material for a book; this is not unbelievable, and if he is prevented by this from doing so it will be a great shame.

Political opinion and bias on campus is not necessarily a bad thing. Political hegemony, reinforced by dishonesty, certainly is. I’ve must take issue with one of my own lecturers for this, as she is want to make lazy and inaccurate slurs, and not-so-sly innuendos, which her position as an authority makes especially damaging.

That example perhaps reveals the futility of Mr. Heaton-Harris’s ambition, for if his purpose is to expose harmful bias his requested material is too narrow in its scope.

But the response of the Left and its lecturers confirms three things: first, that their bias exists; second, that it is sufficiently powerful to deaden inquiry; and third, that it defends itself speciously and without honesty. The presence of this tripartite campaign is a cause for concern, and yet another reason I have for grudgingly defending a Tory MP.

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