In The Idea of a University John Henry Newman argued that the purpose of higher education was 'to open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties.'
I often wonder what he would make of modern campus culture.
No-platforming. Tearing down statues. Fostering victim culture. Right-on academics so adorned with the Emperor’s New Clothes that they are unable to distinguish the work of their peers from parody. Degree titles so niche that they have the future employment benefit of a semester of all-night sessions on the After Shock.
It can’t get worse, can it?
Step forward Anglia Ruskin University (ARU). It’s a respectable University. Well, it should be. Amongst their illustrious alumni ARU can boast the two best members of Pink Floyd and Lord (Michael) Ashcroft. Oh, and Junius Ho. Junius Ho is a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and is well known for being close to Beijing and an all-round villain.
The folk at ARU seemed to like Ho. In fact they liked him so much that they gave him an honorary doctorate in 2011. The fawning description of Ho on the ARU website says they are 'proud to be follow his continuing evolution.'
Let’s have a look at some of that evolution.
In 2017 Ho called for protestors to be 'killed mercilessly'. It’s not a big deal to kill 'pigs and dogs' he reasoned. In July this year he circulated photos of Westerners at protests, and implied they were foreign intelligence agents. This month he said that fellow legislator Claudia Mo was 'habitually eating foreign sausage', referring to her English husband.
Ho issued what was widely perceived to be a death threat live on air to another legislator, Eddie Chu. He regularly calls protestors 'cockroaches'. When the Legislative Council of Hong Kong was debating same sex marriage, Ho objected and argued that it could lead to permitting bestiality.
This is just a prime selection from an endless litany of dangerous and offensive things he has said. Each of them alone should warrant a revocation of his honour.
Anglia Ruskin's student union, on the other hand, has adopted policies on ‘Trans inclusion in sport’, ‘gender neutral toilets’, and my personal favourite, ‘Increased equality for vegan students’. It is hard to see how these policies are consistent with Ho’s well-publicised views.
It’s not like his views have been hidden either. Ho says these things in televised debates and on the radio. There was even a petition about his ARU doctorate. The University had received a complaint about Ho, yet he still kept his degree.
Until today. After request for comment from the Spectator, and after growing calls on social media for the university to investigate Ho's position, ARU have announced that they are withdrawing Ho's honorary degree. In a statement, the university said:
'ARU’s honorands must be positive role models to our students, alumni and staff, and to the communities we serve. Mr Ho’s conduct since he was honoured has caused increasing concern. Following an investigation, the university has withdrawn Mr Ho’s honorary degree.'
It’s about time. If Ho had not been removed, the hypocrisy of the university would have been utterly breath-taking, exposing ARU as an institution without principle, and guilty of the most refined form of virtue signalling. Questions remain though about why ARU took so long to act.
It would be wrong to point the finger just at ARU. Demonstrators wishing to show solidarity with Hong Kong at Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool Universities have all faced pro-Beijing intimidation. In none of these cases have the university authorities leapt to the defence of our common values.
Like so many other industries, UK higher education has sleep-walked into Chinese dependency without having calculated the cost. And like so many other industries, they are discovering that they can no longer speak freely for fear of economic reprisals.
It is no coincidence that the nations in receipt of massive Chinese infrastructural investment through the Belt and Road Initiative are the same countries which refuse to sign letters condemning Chinese human rights abuses. It’s no coincidence that nations on the Chinese ‘New Silk Way’ have failed to speak out for their co-religionists in Xinjiang, where more than one million Uyghur Muslims are suffering unspeakably.
Higher Education is the UK’s own Belt and Road. British universities have the chance to turn the tide by showing that they stand against bigotry, violent rhetoric and authoritarianism. But will they?