RT on the Tory Whip Requesting Information on Universities and Lecturers Teaching Brexit

Mike’s already put up an article about this yesterday, including the reply from one outraged lecturer disgusted with this transparent attempt to intimidate and control British universities and the way Brexit is taught and discussed.

One of the Tory Whips, Chris Heaton-Harris, took it upon himself to write to university vice-chancellors demanding the details of their courses on international relations, and specifically where it discussed Brexit. He also wanted the names of the lecturers teaching the courses, the course syllabus and any lecture notes or materials on-line.

This has outraged academics across the UK, who have denounced it as McCarthyism. The programme quotes Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, who states that the letter appears innocent, but is in fact very dangerous. He states that it is the first step to the thought police, the political censor, naturally justified as the will of the people.

Heaton-Harris responded by claiming that Theresa May always believed in the independence of the universities and in free and vigorous academic debate. As Mike points out in his article, however, this guy is a Tory MP and so nobody believes him. RT has as their guest Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. And she calls this exactly what it is: a witch-hunt and intimidation. She states that the letters are intended to intimidate because they come on official House of Parliament notepaper, and ask for the names of the lecturers, as well as details of their coursework. When the interviewer asks if this is really so, as the MP has no authority to demand such information and most of the letters, he’s heard, were filed in the bin. She responds by saying that he could have found out that information simply by going on line. He didn’t. She states that it is an attempt by the government to control the debate. It shows how weak the government’s own position is – and the programme notes that Heaton-Harris is very much a supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign. She also says that it shows the government’s own, entirely false view of history, when they were in the universities and could control what was discussed and taught.

When the lecturer asks about how she can teach the subject impartiality, she responds by saying that students are mature enough to form their own opinions about what they’re being taught. And yes, she is a campaigner, and supports ‘Remain’, but students are able to form their own opinions on the subject.

Mike in his piece on it has the succinct reply from David Green, who told the Whip that he is at complete liberty to see what and how the subject is taught at his university. All he has to do is enroll and pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees the other students have to pay.


In fact, educators in schools and universities are specifically prevented by law from indoctrinating students. They have to be impartial. And in situations, where they are required to make a statement concerning a political or religious belief or issue, they have to state that it is what they believe. They cannot present their opinions as objective truth.

And I would think that the majority of British teachers and lecturers take this requirement very seriously. I can remember hearing from some of the other graduate students at Bristol that they were surprised to find that some of their lecturers had very strong personal beliefs on political issues, when their conduct in class was completely impartial. I realise that some lecturers are much less reticent about making their personal beliefs known to their class, and that academic discussion is all about forming beliefs and testing them through the weight of evidence. And I can certainly remember some lecturers in the past, who made no secret of their opinions in politics and religion. But Tony Blair’s government passed legislation to prevent indoctrination. And some students, at least, have absolutely no hesitation about making their own minds up about what they’re being taught, as Dr. Prentoulis makes clear. And in my experience also, parents may also been extremely concerned about what their children are taught at universities. So really, Heaton-Harris has no cause to try to intimidate lecturers and other educators, who should be allowed to do what they want to do: educate.

Way back in the 1980s I can remember Stephen Fry giving a rather good little talk on the radio attacking Thatcher’s policy towards education. Fry explained that the British words ‘education’ and ‘education’ come from the Latin ‘educare’, which literally means ‘to lead out’. It was all about bringing forth and developing the pupils’ and students’ own abilities, ideas and talents. But the Tories don’t want this. They want instruction instead. Instead of an intelligent, questioning workforce, they want a society of compliant drones that will have the necessary skills to work for their masters in industry, but no more. They do not want questioning minds, that are keen to decide for themselves and form their own opinions. We’ve already seen that in the way Gove went off and demanded that schools teach the received Tory version of the First World War, not Blackadder Goes Forth. Mike wrote a very good reply to that, pointing out that he was mistaking comedy for history, when Blackadder was very much comedy and did not pretend otherwise. But Blackadder was based on a real view of history supported by evidence, even if it is one with which Gove disagreed.

As for Heaton-Harris himself, he should resign. Prof. Green and Dr. Prentoulis are right: it is intimidation, and a very transparent attempt to control what is taught, as well as make educators frightened for their jobs. Totalitarian regimes always try to control what is taught in schools and universities. This was very explicit in Nazi Germany and the Communist bloc. One of the first things the Nazis did as part of their seizure of power was to ‘coordinate’ the universities, and force out Jews, Communists and anybody else, who dared to teach material they didn’t like. This included established scientific fact, like Relativity. That couldn’t be correct, ’cause Einstein was Jewish. Another victim of this purge was the Jewish mathematician David Hilbert, who was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century. But his ideas were also forbidden because he was Jewish. The resulting purge of intellectuals left Germany academic life and culture seriously impoverished, and enriched America, where many of those purged fled.

And when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia conquered the peoples of Europe during the Second World War, they had a deliberate policy of imprisoning and murdering those nations’ intellectuals, in order to destroy any independent academic or intellectual life. This was particularly brutal in eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers were imprisoned and shot because of the threat genuine free speech and discussion poses to all totalitarians and autocrats.

The same policies are pursued today by dictators and autocratic regimes around the world. These include Israel, where it is illegal to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their native land. This harsh atmosphere of intellectual repression also extends to Jewish Israelis. Tony Greenstein reported a few days ago that Netanyahu’s government is trying to outlaw Breaking the Silence, a civil rights group comprising ex-squaddies, who talk about the massacres and atrocities of Palestinians they have witnessed and taken part in.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/israel-moves-another-step-nearer-being.html

Genuinely free academic discussion, debate and inquiry is one of the cornerstones of democracy and at the heart of any vital national intellectual and cultural life. Government has absolutely no business trying to censor and control political debate. By trying to do so, Heaton-Harris has shown that he is a positive danger to democracy. He should apologise and resign. Immediately.


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