Dear Vice Chancellor
BLM Commitment Plan: whose stalking horse?
I write to express my concern about the university’s Statement on Black Lives Matter (BLM) and subsequent BLM Commitment Plan. These strike me as polemics and I dissent from the arguments and policies set out. Let me indulge in my own polemic in response. I note the claim that “much discussion has gone on amongst students and colleagues”. We have been locked down for three months and I am unaware of any discussion on these policies. Please let me know, outside the pressure groups (UCU, the Student Union, etc.) to which we are constantly referred: who has been consulted in determining the content of these statements, how were decisions on policy arrived at, and on whose authority were these posted on the website as university writ?
I cannot be the only member of staff who finds this material objectionable. Personally I take the view that UK universities must embrace all and varied political organisations and viewpoints, but not officially endorse any of them. And yet our university, and our various internal pressure groups “stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement”. BLM is an avowedly revolutionary movement, surely promoting a racialized Marxism which is inimical to western values and the university’s mission. BLM comes with the full package of neo-Marxist doctrines of anti-capitalism, anti-police, anti-nuclear family, anti-Israel and so on. I think its ideological portrayal of a black versus white power game, representing victim and oppressor, is simplistic, ahistorical and divisive. Has there been no consideration of the distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, and the incompatibility of these concepts in a free society? Ideological attempts at equality of outcome have always ended in state coercion and human misery on a massive scale. I would be very happy to make this argument in any forum within the university because somebody needs to. Remarkably, the university’s endorsement of BLM is enthusiastic and entirely uncritical. Why no debate? The university should be ashamed of itself.
Adopting the BLM agenda is perhaps unsurprising given the institutional dynamic of egalitarianism, born of and reinforced by, an apparatus of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, now in place. This is not just a bad case of groupthink. There is an orthodoxy, especially in the humanities and social sciences, less so in business studies and physical science perhaps, but crucially it would seem, embedded at the senior management level. There is an absence of disputation. When are we going to have a debate?
I question what benefit there will be for black or any other students from the BLM Commitment Plan. I think there are too many tendentious statements with too much feel-good posturing. For example, being “actively anti-racist” remains a political slogan. The antidote to racism may more likely be in morality (universalist), reason (from the Enlightenment) and the rule of law (in a democratic and open society). These are the very values which have, over so many years, made Britain one of the most decent and meritocratic places in the world to live and learn, whatever your race or religion. This is at risk from identity politics. As for feel-good posturing, I see we are all going to be given “equality and diversity training”. Where is the identification of training need, and what evidence is there of changes in behaviour? I would also suggest that “decolonising” the curriculum and teaching practices is a direct threat to academic autonomy.
I do believe that every single person in the university wants to improve educational outcomes for all our students. I think such improvements will continue to come from better understanding of the bundle of advantage and disadvantage each student brings, together with continuous improvement in curriculum development, support and teaching practice. I suspect that devotion to identity politics, and postmodernist interpretations have little to offer educationally. There is some evidence to suggest that universities are being damaged by these notions and I want to see a debate. The university as an institution should host this discussion, neither repudiating nor endorsing BLM. Personally, I would repudiate BLM, and to me self-righteous or fearful support for this movement is emotive, dangerous and an exploitation of genuine grievances. As far as our students are concerned I would expect to see the curriculum shaped by enlightened and professional policies and informed by political diversity, not racialized dogmas of the moment.
Vice Chancellor, please defend the academy, and let me know:
- Who decided officially to endorse BLM and by what process?
- How have the Student Union, UCU, Unison, and BAME, LGBTQ and other staff networks become so influential and who else was consulted?
- What local research into retention and achievement has been conducted recently, by curricula and demographic group?
- How far is diversity of viewpoint included in the latest Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies and administration?
- What is being done to generate a university-wide debate on our responses to a radically different post-Augar, post COVID world?
- Will the university encourage research and a genuine debate on emergent concerns about a cultural monopolisation of higher education?