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24 Oct, 2017 11:09

‘McCarthyite’ Tories ask universities to hand over Brexit teaching materials

‘McCarthyite’ Tories ask universities to hand over Brexit teaching materials

A bizarre letter issued to all British universities by the government whip has sparked a backlash among top academics. The correspondence called on all institutions to name their “European affairs” professors and hand over course materials about Brexit.

Chris Heaton-Harris, government whip and MP for Davenry, also asked universities to send links to online lectures so that the government could monitor what is being taught.

Academic staff have accused Downing Street of “McCarthyite” tactics and refused to cooperate with the requests. Lecturers said they would not act as the “thought police” and would teach Brexit as they see fit, insisting that they would never get into the practice of propaganda.

“I was wondering if you would be so kind as to supply me with the names of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit,” the letter said.

“Furthermore, if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged. I sincerely hope you are able to provide me with such and I look forwards to hearing from you in due course.”

Professors have refused to comply. Thom Brooks, dean of Durham Law School openly refused to co-operate.

“Let me make something clear,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I will NOT be answering his request. We’re a university. Not thought police.”

Professor David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, also refused to provide the information. He said he felt a chill down his spine when he read the “sinister” letter.

“This letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous,” he said.

“Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak, naturally justified as ‘the will of the British people,’ a phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harris’s website.”

Alan Macleod, lecturer in Modern British History at the University of Leeds, said the MP would need to pay tuition fees like his students to get the information.

“If Chris Heaton-Harris wants to know what I teach about #Brexit he’ll need to cough up £9,250,” he joked on Twitter.

Paul Bernal, senior law lecturer at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Maybe we should all send #HeatonHarris our notes, slides and materials. If he actually read them he might understand the impact of Brexit.”

Even pro-Brexit academics working in this area are unhappy with the MP.

“It is really troubling that an MP thinks it is within his remit to start poking his nose into university teaching,” pro-Brexit lecturer Lee Jones, reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London, told The Guardian.

“Universities are autonomous and politicians have no right to intimidate academics by scrutinizing their courses. I have colleagues who are die-hard Remainers. But I know what they teach and it is not propaganda.”

The government was previously accused of Brexit censorship when the Electoral Commission made inquiries about the debates and research being conducted by professors.