Professor Nigel Biggar has accused Cambridge University of “discriminat[ion] on the unjustifiable grounds of race, gender, and above all moral and politics”.
The Director of the McDonald centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, went on to say that “if you’re white, male, culturally conservative, and given to expressing reasoned doubt of prevailing mores, you’ll be given no benefit of doubt at all.”
Writing in in the Oxford Magazine, a circular produced by and for faculty members, in second week of this term, Biggar penned an article entitled “Cambridge and the Exclusion of Jordan Peterson”, addressing the decision taken by Cambridge to rescind the offer of a visiting fellowship, extended to the Canadian polemic on the 19th of February.
A Cambridge University spokesperson told the Evening Standard: “We recognise Nigel Biggar’s right to hold views on Cambridge in relation to discrimination against white, male, conservative men, which are claims which we refute utterly.”
Biggar’s article charges Cambridge on three accounts: communicating the decision to rescind the offer to the Student Union, before contacting Peterson, not providing reasoning for its decision, and its inconsistent attitudes towards free speech and the actions of faculty members.
The Oxford Regius professor wrote that, having examined Peterson’s actions and career, he believed critics of the Canadian “had no good reason to infer from a single, ambiguous photograph that Jordan Peterson endorsed ‘Islamophobia’”, referring to an image taken of Peterson with his arm around a man saying “I am a proud Islamophobe”.
“He failed to ask the obvious questions that any fair-minded observer would have asked.
“He, along with his colleagues, rushed to judgement”, said Biggar, speaking about the judgement made by Stephen Toope, the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University.
He claims that “the full significance of Cambridge’s reaction in this case only becomes clear when related to an earlier one”, going on to describe Cambridge Fellow Dr Priyamvada Gopal’s online attack on his work “Ethics and Empire” as “incontinent abuse”, based on the same rhetoric as the decision to withdraw Peterson’s invitation.
In December 2017, Dr Gopal, a Reader in Cambridge’s English Faculty, and Fellow of Churchill College attacked his work, tweeting “we need to SHUT THIS DOWN”. The response, a widespread social media movement against Biggar, came as a reaction to what the Oxford academic terms his “modest view that ‘empire’ can mean a variety of things, is capable of good as well as evil, raises ethical questions worth thinking about, and requires sophisticated moral evaluation.”
He goes on to claim that the “fact that Dr Gopal’s behaviour appears to have violated their university’s own Social Media Guidelines seems to have bothered them not at all.”
Biggar then extends his comparison, appearing to state that Dr Gopal received preferential and inconsistent treatment from the University, on the basis of her race, sex and political biases.
“When one puts Cambridge University’s serial inaction in the case of Dr Gopal alongside its precipitate action in the case of Professor Peterson, what is revealed is this: the University does in fact discriminate on the unjustifiable grounds of race, gender, and above all morals and politics.
“If you’re non-white, female, and aggressively ‘woke’, then you’ll be accorded maximal benefit of doubt, given a pass on official norms of civility, and let free to spit hatred and contempt on social media.
“However, if you’re white, male, culturally conservative, and given to expressing reasoned doubt about prevailing mores, you’ll be given no benefit of doubt at all. And, should you do so much as appear to transgress ill-conceived norms of inclusiveness, you’ll be summarily and rudely excluded.”
Dr Gopal described the piece in the Oxford Magazine as a ‘tedious bore”, saying “These power imbalances are so profoundly built in to bullying, harassment, stalking, racism, sexism etc”.
Speaking to Cherwell, Professor Biggar said “Cambridge University declares that it ‘utterly refutes’ my claim that it engages in political discrimination. I have substantiated what I have claimed with argument and evidence.
“To refute it would require counterargument and counter-evidence. Since Cambridge has supplied neither, it has not refuted my claim; it has merely rejected it without explanation. Once again its leadership has shown itself incapable of engaging in the accountable giving-and-taking of reasons, which is the very raison d’etre of a university.”
At the time, Cambridge’s Student Union (CUSU) offered the following statement “We are relieved to hear that Jordan Peterson’s request for a visiting fellowship to Cambridge’s faculty of divinity has been rescinded following further review.
“It is a political act to associate the University with an academic’s work through offers which legitimise figures such as Peterson. His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the University, but one that works in opposition to the principles of the University.”
In response to this, an extensive blog post from Peterson, entitled “Cambridge University Rescinds my Fellowship”, condemned the university and union, ending with the statement “I think that it is no bloody wonder that the faith is declining (and with it, the values of the West, as it fragments) with cowards and mountebanks of the sort who manifested themselves today at the helm. I wish them the continued decline in relevance over the next few decades that they deeply and profoundly and diligently work toward and deserve.”