When the Daily Mail accused academics at British universities of promoting pro-Remain “propaganda” and invited readers to submit their own tales of “anti-Brexit bias” on campus to a public email address, what happened next was perhaps inevitable.
Scholars outdid themselves with “stories” of pro-European Union treachery at universities. “My university employs people to sweep away all the ‘leaves’ during autumn,” fumed Robbie Hand, a PhD student at the University of Roehampton. “The metaphor makes me so angry,” he continued.
Will Davies, reader in political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London, emailed in with another concerning example of bias: “In a second-year module I take (‘Cultural Marxism and Masculinities’ – 15 credits) our lecturer declared they were committed to ‘free speech’, but on condition that the speech was in a language other than English. My mate was determined to give an opinion on why Brexit was good, but was forced to stand in front of the class explaining it in French, a language he doesn’t really speak. Happy to talk more.”
One Twitter user complained that their engineering lecturers had forced them to use metric units, “the pinko-Euro-Communists”. Another recalled being told by a professor to replace their Remembrance Day poppy with “a yellow rosette with Nick Clegg’s face in the middle”. At the University of Leeds, one poor graduate was given no choice but to “speak foreign almost every day”. The university “refused to let me even graduate without both speaking and writing ‘European’ under extreme high pressure conditions,” they complained.
The extent to which the EU has wormed its way into university curricula was laid bare by some academics’ responses to government whip Chris Heaton-Harris, who earlier in the week had requested from vice-chancellors a list of Brexit-teaching professors and their lecture content.
Paul Kleiman, a visiting professor at Middlesex University, admitted that he had been delivering a lecture titled “Shakespeare: Leaver or Remainer?” in the second week of a module on British and European Theatre History. By week 10, students were learning about “Waiting for Brexit: Laughter, Despair and the Theatre of the Absurd”.
And Peter Coles, a theoretical astrophysicist at Cardiff University, revealed that his syllabus explores the “implications for Brexit” of dark matter and the cosmic neutrino background, as well as the establishment of the standard cosmological model “by the metropolitan elite”.
But in a week when Conservative MPs and right-wing newspapers did their best to paint academics as a fifth column for Brussels, poisoning the minds of their students, some scholars suspect that they are not quite as influential as Brexiteers fear. Charlotte Riley, a lecturer in British history at the University of Southampton, noted: “I can’t even convince my students to double-space their essays, I doubt I have any influence on how they vote in referendums.”