I was lucky enough to attend graduate school at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). A university in London, England, SOAS focuses on global studies.
My time at SOAS was illuminating. Studying Middle East politics, I benefited from the exceptional Professor Charles Tripp. He was tough, he was liberal, but he was a master of education.
That said, SOAS had a negative aspect: its Student Union (SOAS-SU).
The British equivalent of a U.S. student government, SOAS-SU is a fiefdom of odd, aggressive, and not terribly intelligent far-leftists. While new SU officials are elected each year, they’re always especially hateful of Israel. During Israel’s December 2008 military operations in Gaza, for example, SU officials set up a projector screen to show live Al Jazeera coverage. But those who were watching didn’t just lament the conflict, they took pleasure in each successful Hamas rocket strike on Israel.
But as 2017 begins, SOAS-SU is making news for a different reason. Alongside efforts to strengthen refugee grants and mental health services, the Union wants to purge ‘white’ philosophy from campus.
How will it do so?
Well, first, SOAS-SU aims to “address the white curriculum by undertaking a full scale audit of every course reading list.” The current curriculum, it argues, makes minority students struggle unfairly. But while this is racist and derisory, it is also stupid. As any intellectually curious student would attest, professors know best what books to pick for their courses. Moreover, inanimate curriculums are not subjectively racist (a book does not look at its reader and attempt to punish them for their skin color).
But when it comes to idiocy, that’s just the tip of the SOAS-SU iceberg. The union’s deeper agenda?
“Decolonizing SOAS: Confronting the White Institution.”
Oddly-titled (minorities make up a significant proportion of the SOAS student and faculty populations), this project has two key elements. First, the SU intends “to make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or its diaspora.” Second, SOAS-SU affirms that “if white philosophers are required… teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within.”
But where SU officials call for “acknowledging the colonial context,” what they are really saying is “disregard white philosophers and their ideas.” And that’s pathetic. In their prejudice against great classics such as Plato’s Republic or Hobbes’ Leviathan etc., SOAS-SU has put ideology over education. After all, knowledge of Greek philosophy and enlightenment discourse is not just preferable, it is critical. Absent that, students of the arts do not have the foundation with which to consider other philosophies.
Still, it gets better. As well as racist, the SOAS-SU proposal is also sexist! It claims its new curriculum would also “examine the ways in which Western philosophy puts a specific conception of Man at the center.” Next, having addressed the ills of man, SOAS-SU demands the new order “grant the same credence to metaphysical and transcendental systems of knowledge from the Global South as it does to systems of knowledge that have emerged from Western Europe.”
That quote is the pinnacle of stupidity. Calling for a transcendental metaphysicality of philosophy, SOAS-SU proves their only concern is worshipping cultural relativism. And in this case, it is a mindless cultural relativism. As I say, the SOAS library is vast. It is packed with books from authors of all different nationalities and ideologies. And it is packed with these books because they are part of… you guessed it… reading lists!
Ultimately, SOAS-SU is deluded. As in the U.S., the critical issue with U.K. university reading lists is not that they are too white, but that they are overwhelmingly leftist. That is why we see a rising tide of anti-intellectual paradigms on campuses. If SOAS-SU truly wanted to help students become more intellectually rigorous, they would call on colleges to recruit more conservatives in academia.
Of course, that would be too original.