If the students cross the line, it will be an own goal

The David Coleman is a famous BBC sports commentator, noted for his long career, speed of delivery and of course some amusing turns of phrase (the headline above is derived from the infamous “If the ball had crossed the line, it would have been a goal”). Another David Coleman, though, is the centre of an academic controversy this term.

Coleman is an ‘honorary consultant’ for and co-founder of Migration Watch UK, an organisation that expresses (frequent and vehement) ‘concern’ about immigration to the UK. I don’t agree with them and I don’t particularly like them (although in their favour, they are up front about their views and values, which are neither fascist or otherwise extreme).

He is also a full professor at Oxford (in demographics) and that’s where the trouble starts. See, “Oxford Student Action for Refugees” (a laudable cause, and much better than many of the student societies or clubs at that and other universities) have decided that Coleman’s views and friends mean that he should lose his academic tenure. The organisation, a branch of the UK-wide and well-respected STAR, has come to the attention of the Times Higher. They are campaigning and petitioning to have him removed.

Seemingly without irony, one of the petition organisers said:

“We understand that not everyone is going to agree with our position, but we want to open a debate.”

Obviously getting a teacher fired (without even any suggestion that they have done anything ‘wrong’ in the classroom, relying entirely on political and non-classroom activities) is a GREAT way to ‘open a debate’. It would be funny if it weren’t so stupid. I wonder if any of the well-meaning organisers have realised that, in the US in particular, those who are expressing radical left-wing views are the ones who are at risk of losing their heads (OK fine, their offices). While this is not necessarily a traditional ‘academic freedom’ matter (it’s not about his course or research content), the idea of tenure (which supports academic freedom) includes protection for staff against this sort of witch-hunt. If these students win, they are simply creating a situation where their friends and allies (and some of the most passionate and convincing voices within pro-refugee advocacy are university lecturers and professors, such as Ronit Lentin here at TCD) are similarly at risk. This behaviour leads to tit-for-tatism, and is unhelpful to the causes espoused by STAR.

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2 thoughts on “If the students cross the line, it will be an own goal

  1. I have wondered a bit about the broader issue of if you do your job well and to the best of your ability, should your personal interests or beliefs affect your job?

    In my opinion if Professor Coleman does lose his job this would be most unfair as I am sure Oxford does not stop students from taking classes and getting degrees based on their personal lives or their affiliations.

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