Politics & Economics

SOAS students protest racist lecturer

25 May 2019
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By Georg Ismael and Minerwa Tahir

Protests erupted on the campus of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London after reports that Gunnar Beck, a reader in law, was standing for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the European Parliament elections. Staff trade union members soon joined it.

SOAS UNISON, which organises professional and support staff at the school, has backed the students’ demand for Beck’s dismissal. And the SOAS branch of the University and College Union’s (UCU) decision that members of racist parties do not have a place in the union is the right one. They should go further and stand in solidarity with the students’ demand for Beck’s dismissal.

Students have demanded Beck be sacked, not only because of his membership of a far right party that targets immigrants and refugees in Germany and foments racist hatred, but also because of complaints about Becks own xenophobic and oppressive behaviour over many years towards students in his classes.

At the hundreds strong demonstrations students spoke out about their ordeals and of the school’s consistent failure to look investigate. They showed how the formal complainants procedure was heavily biased in favour of those with institutional power over students grades and futures and against survivors of hate speech and violence, especially women and those from those socially oppressed groups.

Students and staff unions have demanded that SOAS initiates a full enquiry into allegations against Beck, one that protects the complainants and witnesses against discrimination of victimisation.

SOAS management’s response so far is merely to hint at Beck’s dismissal on the grounds that he is an AfD member of the European Parliament, evading the question of his racist politics.

Free speech?

Since the start of the campaign, students have categorically demanded the dismissal of the AfD member from SOAS. As a leading member of a racist, chauvinist and anti-working class party, we want Beck out so that he does not have the platform from which to indoctrinate students with his reactionary ideology and thus normalise far-right politics on campus and in public discourse.

SOAS management has defended Beck’s employment by referring to the “right to academic freedom of speech” ignoring the fact that this is a party denies freedom of movement to migrants, rejects freedom of religion and states in its party programme that “Islam does not belong to Germany”.
In Germany, it also wants to make deep cuts in education that would reduce opportunities for working class and poorer students. The AfD topped the polls in the provinces of Saxony and Brandenburg and presents a real threat there.

Of course these arguments would carry little weight with SOA management since they themselves are carrying out a neoliberal restructuring that threatens the livelihoods of the many while protecting the privileged few. This fits perfectly well with the bourgeois class interests the SOAS management loyally serves. For the same reason they also have a history of targeting trade union leaders and progressive faculty members.

Students and staff need to press on with the demand that racists should have no platform in the school. It should follow in the footsteps of St Edmunds College, Cambridge, that sacked eugenicist Noah Carl after uncovering evidence of his collaboration with far-right extremists.

And if Beck hangs on, in the next semester we should organise lecture hall picket lines, office sit-ins, and link up with similar protests, such as at King’s College London where senior lecturer Niall McCrae called a Black Remain campaigner a “fucking traitor” and poked at a union jack in his face.

The case of Gunnar Beck raises an issue central to the programme of radical student movements – taking the control of hiring and firing out of the hands of managements and placing it under the democratic control of workers and students.

International solidarity

In a period when there is a worldwide rise in right wing and racist populism, students and campus workers have to reach out to build alliances with student and workers’ movements on other campuses.

We also need to link up internationally, with students like Shehla Rashid at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, who are raising their voices against the brutal repression in Kashmir or Pashtun students in Pakistan who are presently suffering repression by the military.

Therefore, protests against all such racist agendas should be in full solidarity with one another across all borders. Let’s seize the time to make this international unity a reality.

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