Oxford Uni don says ‘peer pressure’ is stifling debate
“Informal peer pressure” is being used to curb debate about controversial historical topics at Oxford, a university professor has claimed.
Prof Nigel Biggar said some junior academics told him they could not share opinions challenging “orthodox views” on topics like imperialism.
He said it might be “dangerous” as they may be “penalised” when it came to jobs or exams.
Responding, Oxford’s history department said it encouraged diverse views.
The chair of its board, Prof Martin Conway, added it was a distinctive characteristic of the faculty and was welcomed.
But Prof Biggar said there was an orthodox view that empire was “always and everywhere wicked” which was promoted with a “zeal” at Oxford, which meant some working in the field felt constrained.
The comments from Prof Biggar – who has said there are some aspects of empire Britain can take pride in – follow criticism of a project he leads called Ethics and Empire, which aims to explore ethical questions of empire.
In December, it was the subject of an open letter by nearly 60 academics at Oxford, who said his approach was “too polemical” to be taken seriously.
He was also described as an “apologist for colonialism” in a second letter, signed by historians based outside of Oxford.
Prof Bigger said his work was not about defending the British Empire and “his perception” was that some of the signatories wanted to pressure Oxford into halting it.
But Prof James McDougall, who helped organise the first letter, and Dr Jon Wilson, who published the second letter, said that was not the intention.
Prof McDougall said Prof Bigger had publicised his views in national newspapers and it was important to show other perspectives are more widespread.
He added that many of the signatories have contrasting views and Ethics and Empire was criticised because of its approach and aims not because it contradicts “imagined orthodoxy”.