How CAN Cambridge let this hate-filled don pour out her racist bile?
Barely a day goes by without some fresh outbreak of hysteria in Britain’s universities. But for left- wing nastiness, few disputes can rival the one that enveloped an eminent Oxford don, Nigel Biggar.
Before Christmas, The reverend Canon Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at Christ Church, Oxford, wrote an article for The Times arguing that, while British colonialism spawned several atrocities, its consequences were not exclusively bad.
His point was that our empire’s legacy was ‘morally mixed’. While imperialistic wars were waged and the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out, our forefathers also ended the Transatlantic slave trade and successfully exported democracy to distant corners of the globe.
as a result, Biggar argued, we must ‘not feel guilty about our colonial history’ and should view it in a ‘more balanced’ context.
His central thesis seems incontestable. The British empire was undoubtedly involved in bad things but also spawned much ‘good’.
as to the wider conclusions Biggar drew, readers are free to make up their own minds. Provocative opinions that challenge orthodoxy have been an essential part of informed academic debate for as long as great universities have existed. Or so one might think. But in modern academia, there is a price to pay for upsetting the forces of political correctness — particularly for people who, like Biggar, hail from that world’s dwindling band of political conservatives.
Within days of Professor Biggar’s article being published, 58 Oxford academics, almost all left-wing activists, signed an open letter declaring a ‘firm rejection’ of his remarks, which they dubbed ‘breathtakingly politically naive’.
a further letter, signed by 170 international scholars, accused him of being ‘an apologist for colonialism’. There were calls for a boycott of a five-year research project that Professor Biggar runs, ‘ethics and empire’.
HeALSO attracted bile on social media, where keyboard warriors dubbed him ‘odious’ and ‘racist’, and compared his views to those of Hitler.
To their credit, the powers-that-be at Oxford stood by their man. In a statement, the university resisted calls for his research project to be cancelled, stressing that ‘we absolutely support academic freedom of speech’.
and there things might have ended, were it not for Biggar’s decision this week to write a second article about the affair.
This one lifted the lid on some of the ‘spitting hatred’ directed at him by fellow academics during December’s controversy. In particular, he revealed that ‘a senior academic at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities’ had used social media to publicly dub him a ‘racist’ and a ‘bigot’ and to call his scholarship ‘supremacist sh***’.
He duly complained about this ‘incontinent abuse’ to the heads of its author’s college and faculty. But they refused to act, despite agreeing the posts were ‘not always as temperate as one might hope for’. as a result, Biggar concluded that ‘vile abuse is now tolerated in our universities’.
While he declined to name the ‘senior academic’ in his article, an extended look at this sorry saga reveals her to be a prolific internet troll who uses social media to bombard peers and public figures with vitriolic (and, on some occasions, racist) abuse.
Moreover, I can reveal that her use of both Twitter and Facebook has, in recent months, repeatedly broken her university’s own formal written guidelines, at one point helping to reduce a high-profile colleague, TV historian Mary Beard, to tears. yet her superiors refuse to act.
The ‘senior academic’ in question turns out to be Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a 49-year- old reader (a prestigious post that ranks just below professor) in literature at Churchill College, Cambridge.
Famed in academic circles for her strident left-wing views, she is a vehement supporter of Jeremy Corbyn who has published several opinion pieces in The Guardian and is a prolific user of Twitter, having posted more than 17,000 tweets in the past seven years.
Only last month, during the scandal surrounding sexual abuse by Oxfam employees working in disaster zones, Gopal made headlines by using the site to accuse Beard of ‘patrician casual racism’.
The reason? Beard had said of the alleged abuse of Haitian women by aid workers: ‘I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain “civilised” values in a disaster zone.’
Gopal’s response contributed to an avalanche of criticism which left Beard feeling so upset and ‘assaulted’ that she posted a photo of herself in tears online.
Which brings us back to Biggar, who was on the receiving end of similar treatment. Indeed, in the days surrounding the controversy, Gopal posted several dozen tweets and Facebook comments about his Times article, making often highly personal remarks.
The posts are laced with bile. In one she dubbed him ‘ rev Bigot’. another claimed what came out of his mouth was ‘vomit’.
Further tweets called him ‘horrible’ and she shared a post on Facebook saying that he was a a ‘ repulsive, sexist, misogynist racist’. separately, she also accused him of being a ‘white supremacist’ whose writings are ‘outright racist imperial apologetics’.
still more of her posts alleged that he was ‘dishonest’ and a ‘crybaby bully as bullies usually are’. Bizarrely, one even described Biggar, who has published eight books over five decades in academia, as ‘ intellectually challenged’. another claimed he believes foreigners to be ‘Pakis and nig nogs’ (terms he has not, and would never, use).
she also described Professor John Darwin, one of Biggar’s colleagues, as ‘ so thick I am not sure I can bear to read him’.
like many an internet troll, Dr Gopal also chose to go after anyone who sought to defend Biggar.
she used social media to describe letters to the Times agreeing with his original article as: ‘ More racist sh*** including a***-licking internalised racism from the colonised.’
Then, when the black racerelations campaigner Trevor Phillips spoke out in support of Biggar, she announced that he was ‘a toady who flourishes by shafting other people of colour’.
These remarks were, remember, being made in public, by a Cambridge University scholar.
‘ I understand that there are people who disagree fiercely with my views. That’s fine. But if you want to disagree, then state reasons I am wrong. Don’t just stamp your feet and shout abuse,’ Biggar told me this week.
‘she’s a relatively senior academic at one of our star universities. If she’s that aggressive on Twitter, then what is she like in person? What would happen to a student who dared to state an opinion she didn’t agree with?’
Biggar formally complained to Dame athene Donald, the Dean of Gopal’s college, and Peter de Bolla, the head of Cambridge’s english faculty. But both failed to act.
I can reveal that they refused to discipline Gopal even though her social media activity clearly breached the University of Cambridge’s own social media guidelines, which are outlined in an 11-page document.
It states that ‘digital communications by staff should be professional and respectful at all times’ and prohibits ‘ unacceptable conduct’ including sharing ‘ discriminatory, offensive or harassing content’.
Dr Gopal has, of course, shared just such content on several occasions, directing it not only at Biggar but at other public figures.
Not long ago, she said of an asian commentator whose views on empire she disagreed with, ‘brown is brown. No one kisses imperial ass better’, and advanced an ugly racial stereotype by stating ‘money is a drug for asians, but they also love racial hierarchies so long as they aren’t at the very bottom’.
Both tweets are, of course, offensive and discriminatory. arguably, they constitute harassment.
she has also attacked everyone from Nigel Farage (‘a racist xenophobic, selfish, Trump a***-kissing intellectually challenged divisive loser’) to newspaper columnist simon Jenkins (a ‘knighted posh boy with a Guardian sinecure’) and the entire Conservative Government (‘the most nasty, selfish, self-isolating, individualist, anti-social bunch of self-serving . . . s***s in government ever’).
as for the royal Family, she has called them ‘racist . . . white and white supremacist’ and said of Meghan Markle that she is ‘as good as the rest of them at doing the “saving africa” routine’.
Cambridge University’s social media guidelines require academics to ‘ use a disclaimer when expressing personal views’ (Gopal doesn’t), to ‘use an appropriate and professional tone’, to ‘ be respectful’ and to ‘express opinions but do so in a balanced and measured manner’. THE guidelines also require staff to ensure their social media profiles state that they are ‘ not communicating on behalf of the University’. again, Gopal does not.
yesterday I contacted Dame athene Donald and Peter de Bolla, and Gopal, asking what they and the university thought of her social media activity.
Only Dame athene responded, stating that the university’s social media guidelines ‘ are recommended guidelines and not rules’ and claiming nothing ought to be done to enforce them.
In other words, Cambridge University is — for the time being — quite happy for one of its senior academics to use Twitter and Facebook to spread obscene bile about professional colleagues with whom she happens to disagree.
regrettably, it would therefore seem that Nigel Biggar is right.
In the internet age, vile abuse really is being tolerated by our greatest universities.