“Today the University of Bristol SPAIS held an event with Eric Kaufman (sic) who is an apologist for racism. And today we walked out of his event. Bristol uni is not the place or time to be having a discussion that harbours racist ideology.”
So tweeted, Nasra Ayub, an undergraduate education officer at the University of Bristol, alongside footage of a staged walkout.
The walkout was unremarkable both in intent, execution and in terms of what was said. Another group of students throwing a public tantrum, repeating the same standard message about fascism, racism, refugees and migrants based on a minimal knowledge and understanding of a speaker or their work. It is telling that Ayub could only refer to a Guardian article on white identity being meaningless to defend her position online (as though it’s the definitive word on the matter). The following immature response is also depressingly familiar from her ilk:
It really is beyond the imagination of such students, the faux-radical academics who teach them, and the online (usually white) wokerati who promote such childish responses that Dr Kaufmann may be capable of studying and writing about majority white populations without being a racist?
Yet in some ways this is just an end outcome of a general malaise that has infected education. If it weren’t for the whole-scale failure of progressivism in education, the core purpose of education institutions would not have required redefinition. That universities are also now expected to be babysitting institutions which privilege feelings over the academic should come as no surprise to primary and secondary teachers who have fought and continue to fight now against such notions in their workplaces.
In a Bristol post article, both a student and an academic used the fact that some people were “upset” to defend their opposition to Kaufmann speaking. In typical fashion further accusations of complicity in cultivating racial hatred and links to supposedly racist incidents (which have nothing to do with Kaufmann, his book or the event) are relayed. Some people prefer to live in ivory towers and throw stones than engage in intellectual discourse it seems. Because the one thing I have not read or heard from such quarters is what is actually wrong with either the research or conclusions reached by Kaufmann.
Yet there were academics and students who are able to listen and critique Kaufmann’s argument, and did so for an hour after. There is clearly a choice to be made. But the real issue here is that those who disrupt are simply automatons who relay a programmed mantra. Despite the bravado on twitter, they would not have been able to stay, they would not have been able to critique and they would not have been able to hold Kaufmann’s ideas or work to any kind of scrutiny.
The University of Bristol, to their credit, stated their commitment to freedom of speech, but should this even be necessary? Universities should be a place of inquiry, which at times will be controversial. While hosting the event is a start, it is also their responsibility to induct their students (and quite frankly all their academics) into a culture of intellectual discourse. It clearly cannot be left to chance alone.