I had, perhaps naively, hoped that South Africa was unique in being cursed with a few bitter, extremist, anti-British academics… until I read this:
For those unable to follow the link, the article goes as follows:
What kind of cloistered environment do you have to live in to call Queen Elizabeth II – who reigned over a period in which Britain gave up almost all of its colonial possession – “the chief monarch of a thieving, raping genocidal empire”? It is easy enough to answer that question: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The above words come from a now-removed tweet written by Uju Anya, a professor of linguistics at the university. She went on to write, while the Queen was in her final hours, “may her pain be excruciating”.
Carnegie Mellon University has condemned her words but refused to sack her, quoting that it stands up for the right to free speech under the first amendment. Fair enough – although Anya herself doesn’t seem quite so keen on free speech when it is applied against her. When Jeff Bezos tweeted in reply: “This is someone supposedly working the make the world better? I don’t think so” she accused him of “inciting violence” against her, claiming he had unfairly singled her out “when literally half the planet rejoiced over the news”.
I don’t want to curtail Uju Anya’s right to free speech, but I am somewhat concerned over what her words tell us about US university campuses. Anya, who describes one of her areas of study as using “applied linguistics as a practice of social justice”, does not sound to me like as a scholar engaged in objective enquiry – more a political activist who has sought the legitimacy of a university post in order to peddle her extremist views. Hers is the voice of someone who only ever feeds off the ideas of people who think like she does, and who lacks the ability or inclination to subject her own words to critical analysis. Half the world rejoiced at the Queen’s death? Does she have any evidence for that figure? A “raping, genocidal empire?” Anya’s claim for that seems to be based on UK government support for the Nigerian government in the civil war of 1967-70, when the state of Biafra tried to break away from the rest of the country. Anya was born in the country. You can argue about the wisdom of interfering in someone else’s civil war, and that Britain’s incentive was less to stabilise the country than to secure a source of oil. But the fact is that Nigeria became an independent in 1960 and so was hardly under empire rule at the time. Indeed, Anya’s chief grudge ought to be against the Nigerian government of the time – but no, the Queen makes a more attractive target because she supports the narrative of critical race theory.
Trouble is that the kind of political posturing exercised by Anya shelters beneath the carapace of genuine academic and scientific inquiry. It uses the brand of Carnegie Mellon to gain respectability, to attempt to put itself on the same level as, say, the university’s ground-breaking work on artificial intelligence.
The concept of a university, where experts in different fields gather to bounce ideas of each other, has become exploited and poisoned by extremists wanting to push their own agendas.
To be fair to Carnegie Mellon University, it has at least been consistent in defending free speech – two years ago it refused to sack Rick Grenell as a senior fellow in the politics faculty, whose appointment a band of students objected to purely on the grounds that he had been an official in the Trump administration. But the university would be better off if it dropped spurious areas of humanities controlled by political activists and went back to its roots, as a technical college sponsored by the Scottish-born steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The alternative is to allow its name to be dragged through the mud by the likes of Uju Anya.