I have a confession to make.
I’m part of a major conspiracy. Having been given extensive funding by the evil Eurocrats in Brussels, I’m brainwashing the youth with ‘lefty tripe’, gushing about ‘the merits of the European project to innocent and easily-led undergraduates’, sharing my podium with ‘Bolsheviks, anarchists, Trotskyites and’, wait for it, ‘aggressive femi-nazis’.
So says Jago Pearson, of the satirical magazine ‘Conservative Woman’.
Now, you may remember Mr Pearson from a previous article in the Daily Telegraph which argued that all historians (apart from Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts, David Starkey, Geoffrey Elton, Hugh Trevor-Roper and so forth) are massive commies, hell-bent on converting their students to Maoism while forcing them to listen to ‘black music’.
This piece did, admittedly, make me rather cross, and I ended up penning a response, which Mr Pearson felt just showed I was jealous of Niall Ferguson’s success.
So, I don’t want this to seem vindictive. I’d love Mr Pearson to pop along to my own institution so he can see all the ways that we are singularly failing to further the cause of communism.
But he does really need to stop peddling shite about my profession.
So, for what it’s worth, his latest argument is as follows:
a) The European Union is giving some money to universities.
b) This means that all the research conducted at those universities will promote a pro-EU agenda.
To be fair to Mr Pearson, he does have some evidence for this, namely a tweet by the famously objective Eurosceptic Daniel Hannan MEP, who pointed out that University College London has got some cash from the EU. And so a recent piece of research co-authored by one of their professors, which dared to suggest that Not All Immigration Is Shit is thus academically compromised.
In the tweet, Famously Objective Dan declined to make any clear link between EU money and the research in question. He merely pointed out that the EU had given some money to UCL, and that one of their profs had co-authored the piece. Just as the EU gives quite a lot of money to UKIP, also well-known for their attempts at the pro-EU indoctrination of the young.
Neither is this all, says Pearson. There’s also that dark, turpitudinuous, horror of juvenile corruption that is, er, the Erasmus Program.
And Mr P also treats us to his usual trick of reeling off a few university courses that contain the words ‘gender’ or ‘Scandinavia’ to suggest that the whole bloody lot of us are just a bunch of Marxist weirdoes.
Now, there is an argument that any article which stoops to trollisms like ‘femi-nazi’ should simply be ignored. I mean, on first glance Pearson could simply have cut and paste the damn thing from an under-the-line comment on the Daily Mail website.
And, maintaining this spirit of fairness and openness, I am – to be fair – pretty pro-EU. I prefer things that bring us together compared to things that erect boundaries between us (q.v. Every War That’s Ever Happened). And I’m generally in favour of open markets – clearly I missed those Communism Classes that Mr P thinks happen at all state schools.
Indeed, if the EU does want to give me some money for research, that’d be pretty awesome of them. It would save me, like many academics, doing most of it in my spare time.
But, like the vast, vast majority of university lecturers (there are exceptions on all sides of politics), I try damned hard not to bring this pro-EU stance into my teaching and research, partly because – as a specialist in early-modern English history – it just isn’t bloody relevant. But also because, as anyone who’s ever been even vaguely involved in academia will know, it’s a profession where your academic reputation is incredibly fragile. Any attempt to cook the books in favour of a particular view of your funder would open you up to intense scorn. Sure academics have biases, sure they have particular interests, but they’re not so stupid as to be that obvious. It’s why fossil fuel companies have, despite their vast wealth, singularly failed to convince the scientific community that global warming is a myth.
And there’s a bigger issue, which cuts to the heart of why ill-informed little articles like this are so dangerous.
University education is for everyone who can handle the intellectual rigour. Your political persuasions don’t matter. If you are a student for whom a course on Swedish gender issues is a bit too lefty for you, then there are plenty of other topics to choose from, like War Studies or Economics. If, like Pearson, you don’t like ‘black music’, then you can pretty much avoid it by spending a whole degree studying the Western Classical Tradition (although that Beethoven chap’s a bit fishy, what with him writing the EU anthem and all).
You’d think from what Pearson says that we’re all sat here, aiming our Kalashnikovs at anyone who doesn’t want to do a course in Kes Studies or the Cultivation of Fair-Trade Beards.
Hardly anything could be further from the truth. We generally like our students to study what they enjoy, and we like them to think critically about it.
So fear not, good readers of ‘Conservative Woman’. You are very welcome in British Universities. Contrary to what Jago tells you, based on his doing a history degree and occasionally farting around on Google, you won’t be subjected to diatribes about how ace the Euro is and the optimal straightness of a banana. As much as it is nice to get a bit of dosh for your research, no academic will hope to be taken seriously for long if their work is biased by its funders. Some of us have political views, yes, but we largely keep them to ourselves. The main thing we like is neither Brussels nor Russell Brand. It’s a love of learning, of finding out about the world in all its wonderful and frustrating complexity.
Though, like all people with a functioning brain, we never use the term ‘femi-nazis’. For crying out loud.
It should be noted that I work for an institution which does receive EU funding. But then, we also get money from US federal agencies (including the military). I’ve not really noticed either of these institutions making much difference to my views, nor have they ever given me any direct funding.
In any case, I wrote this on my lunch break.