Furious vice-chancellors this week condemned research by a leading intelligence expert that concluded that UK universities were being used as recruiting grounds for extremists and terrorists.
In a report last month, Anthony Glees, professor of politics at Brunel University, named 24 UK universities where he said extremist or terrorist groups had been detected. He also said that vice-chancellors were ignoring current extremist recruitment activity on campus.
But since the report's publication by the Social Affairs Unit, a right-wing think-tank, vice-chancellors have been lining up to attack the research methodology and the integrity of the report - both in public and private.
The backlash has been so strong that Professor Glees claimed this week that he was being subjected to a campaign of intimidation and harassment from the heart of the higher education establishment that aimed to discredit and silence him.
"Vice-chancellors have been doing that old McCarthyite thing - they don't like the conclusions, so instead of facing up to the conclusions, they rubbish the research method," he said.
David Rhind, vice-chancellor of City University, has been one of the most vociferous critics of the research. City was included in a list of universities where extremism was said to have been detected. However, Professor Rhind said this allegation was based on nothing more than the fact that Sajid Badat, who pleaded guilty to attempted terrorism, had once been offered a place to study at City, which he had not taken up.
"It is complete and utter nonsense to use this to link the university with terrorism," Professor Rhind said. "It is very bad practice. If I were less polite, I would say more than that."
He added that the research as a whole, which was described by Universities UK as being built largely on "anecdotal evidence", "appeared to be based on a collection of snippings from the internet with no quality control".
Professor Glees said that the report simply states - accurately - that the terrorist in question was offered a place at City, which the university cannot deny.
He said that Professor Rhind had "gratuitously rubbished" his research, which was based not only on an extensive and "unchallenged" series of newspaper reports in the "serious press" but also on interviews with "very senior figures in the intelligence and security community" and "two meetings with Special Branch".
Swansea University was furious that its name had been erroneously included in an early draft of the report, which was leaked to a newspaper, in relation to an incident involving the quite separate Swansea Institute of Higher Education.
Professor Glees said this week he had accepted that the reference to Swansea was erroneous and had corrected it immediately. "But despite that, I have had lawyer's letters threatening me with malicious falsehood," he said. "It was quite outrageous to get such a series of threatening letters."
Swansea said it had taken "appropriate and measured" steps to protect its reputation.
The Times Higher has also seen a letter to Professor Glees last week from Steven Schwartz, Brunel's vice-chancellor, which confirms: "I have been receiving some surprising letters from other v-cs complaining about your report.
"Some complain about your research methods. Others seem to resent being lumped in with universities that might be inadvertent homes to people bent on terrorism. One v-c seems to think that I should (or could) shut you up."
Professor Glees said: "It is outrageous that a vice-chancellor would write to my employer to try to shut me up. It looks like an attempt to get me to resign, as no senior professors would withdraw research."