Conservative MPs recently derided the University of Bristol, labelling it a ‘hotbed of antisemitism’ after the university failed to address accusations that a professor made offensive remarks. MPs doubled-down, saying that as a result the university was fostering a climate they likened to ‘1930s Nazi Germany.’
The university is currently investigating David Miller, a professor of political sociology, after students alleged that he criticized Israel, saying that the country wanted to ‘impose its will over the world’ and that some of the university’s Jewish students were being used as ‘political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime.’
On Tuesday, MPs questioned university minister, Michelle Donelan, on why she had yet to bring the allegations directly to the university and to threaten sanctions.
Donelan reported afterwards that the government would speak with Bristol’s vice-chancellor after the internal investigation against Miller had concluded. According to Donelan, the university’s independent status barred her from direct intervention.
She has also pledged to work with the higher education regulator for England, the Office for Students, to further pressure universities to take action against antisemitism on campuses. At the moment, universities are encouraged to sign up for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, but Donelan said that this is not enough.
‘It is deeply concerning that some Jewish students feel put off from applying to certain universities. That is not modern Britain,’ Donelan said.
Currently, the government is considering making it mandatory that universities publish the details of any and all anti-Semitic incidents to increase transparency for prospective students, as well as to hold the university accountable.
‘We need to start sacking people,’ said Stroke-on-Trent North MP, Jonathan Gullis. ‘Until we start bringing that kind of action into our university sector, like you would in primary or secondary school, these incidents will keep happening.’
As university staff are not employed by the state, however, they cannot be sacked by the government, said Donelan.
In March, Bristol University published a statement which said that the investigation into Prof. David Miller was ‘confidential’.
Despite the pressure from the government, however, an open letter to the university in support of Miller has been signed by hundreds, including high-profile intellectuals like Noam Chomsky. The letter reads: ‘Professor Miller is an eminent scholar. He is known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism.’