Chair of Parliamentary Education Committee: “Bristol University Senior Management Should Resign”

On Tuesday Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP appeared before the Education Select Committee. You can see the video of her testimony here. The transcript is here. Three Committee members – the Chair Robert Halfon MP, Christian Wakeford MP and Jonathan Gullis MP  – criticised her over her failure to intervene with the Vice Chancellor and management of Bristol University over the Miller case. Here are excerpts. Robert Halfon in particular was very hard-hitting.

Robert Halfon:

… you cannot just wash your hands when a major university like Bristol University, a Russell Group university, is a hostile environment for Jewish students who have demonstrated and have been incredibly upset that there was a huge anti-Semitic controversy. The Government cannot just wash their hands and say, “No, we can’t get involved in this.” Surely this should be a significant priority for you as Minister for Universities, if not for the Secretary of State.

In February 2019 this academic, David Miller, gave a lecture on the harms of the powerful, described by Jewish students as reminiscent of anti-Semitic language, tropes and conspiracy theories. Apparently, one slide of his presentation allegedly depicted a complex web of Jewish community organisations, charities and philanthropists under the heading “Israeli Government,” with Miller allegedly claiming that parts of the Zionist movement were knowingly fostering Islamophobia. Why is that not unacceptable? Why would you not intervene to deal with this and tell the Bristol vice-chancellor that enough is enough and that we are not living in 1930s Germany and that they should deal with this problem and make sure that Bristol University is not a hostile environment to Jewish students?

All the stuff you are saying is just words. If you cannot intervene—say it is an individual case at Bristol University and you cannot intervene—then it is just words. Bristol University has broken the IHRA modern definition. There have been some awful things going on for Jewish students. They feel unsafe and unprotected and that the university is now a hotbed of anti-Semitism, yet all the Government can do is say, “We will wait for a review,” and not intervene. Surely you should look at things like funding, or at least meet the vice-chancellor early on and say, “What on earth is going on here? Why do thousands of Jewish students feel that Bristol University is not a safe place for Jews?”

There is nothing to stop you picking up the phone to the vice-chancellor and saying, “What on earth is going on? Get your act together. Do something to protect these students. It is your duty to protect them,” rather than washing your hands of it and saying they are autonomous.

Jonathan Gullis:

Minister, I must say that this issue is carrying on. For example, Dr Goldie Osuri at Warwick University said that anti-Semitism in the Labour party was an “Israeli lobby” kind of idea. An investigation was overseen by Professor Virinder Kalra, who had already expressed public opposition to the IHRA, and Stuart Croft, the vice-chancellor, was the biggest embarrassment to students at his university. We need to go further than just finding them, we need to start sacking people. Stuart Croft, Dr Goldie Osuri and Professor Virinder Kalra need to go, to be quite frank. Until we start bringing that kind of scrutiny and action into our university sector, like you would do if you were in a primary or secondary school, these incidents will keep happening. What can you say to that?

It is fair enough that universities are the employer, but rules need to be put in place so that these people can be got rid of. In my opinion, at the very least the head of the Office for Students should be able to remove vice-chancellors if they are not upholding the protection of students, particularly those who are Jewish, where we see time and time again that anti-Semitism is rife in the university sector. I think it is an absolute abomination in modern society that this is still going on.

Robert Halfon:

It is not just the one university that I have highlighted. Jonathan has highlighted other universities and, as a Minister, you should make a positive statement that this is unacceptable. Michelle, it is not just media reports about Bristol University. There are pages and pages of documented evidence from various organisations about what has gone on at that university and it is a disgrace. Personally, I think the senior management should resign because they care nothing about anti-Semitism. They are hiding behind employment law. The way that Bristol University has treated its Jewish students is a disgrace in the 21st century. Students who go to Bristol University and other universities should not feel that they are living in 1930s Germany. I think it has become such a serious national issue, and it has been raised in Parliament a number of times, that you should take a proactive role and do what you can to speak to the senior management and tell them to get a grip and deal with this once and for all.

You should cut off funding. If these universities do not deal with it, you should cut off any kind of funding for this kind of university. Why should Bristol University be getting funding when it is harbouring a known anti-Semite?

Meanwhile and appallingly Miller is back teaching. It is unclear whether he was ever suspended. The University Investigation continues, so does the police investigation.


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