Durham University drops academic Stephen Pax Leonard over ‘antisemitic’ tweet
Durham – An honorary fellow of Durham University has been stripped of his title for sending what were said to be antisemitic and Islamophobic tweets.
Stephen Pax Leonard, an expert in linguistics and anthropology, responded by going on the attack and said that Conservatives and Brexiteers such as him were being made to feel excluded and unwelcome at universities.
He had his honorary fellowship removed by St Chad’s College after complaints were made about tweets, which have since been deleted. One said: “With so few Jews it is extraordinary that the [Swedish] print media is largely owned and edited by Jewish families.” Another stated that Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, wanted the capital “to become a mecca for Muslims” and that “millions of Muslims support Isis”.
Margaret Masson, principal of the college, said that his views were inconsistent with the college’s values. “St Chad’s College is fully committed to free speech. However, I believe that Dr Leonard’s comments — as reported — were objectionable and ill judged.”
In an email to members of the college, Dr Leonard, 37, expressed his anger over his dismissal and said: “I will continue to fight for the freedom of speech and freedom of consciousness that is now threatened in our universities, and will not be deterred by the college’s grossly unfair endorsement of no-platformers and smear campaigners.” Last night he said: “I wish to rebut these libellous accusations, which are absurd, totally unfounded and deeply upsetting. None of these commentators have read any of my published works. Instead, they are basing their allegations on replies to tweets taken completely out of context and manipulated to make a case against me.”
He said that the college “seems to be becoming an ideological echo chamber where Conservatives and Brexiteers such as me are increasingly made to feel ‘excluded’ and unwelcome. Sceptics of the liberal, politically correct orthodoxy have told me how they felt on occasions shamed into silence.”
Free speech at universities has come under the spotlight and ministers have said that they fear a monoculture is emerging in which students feel that they have a right to stop others expressing views on campus because they are unfashionable, and that robust debate is in decline.
In September a student editor at Durham was sacked from a philosophy journal for his “transphobic” tweets. The journal has since been ordered by the Students’ Union to issue an apology for his unfair dismissal.
Dr Leonard, who is an expert in Scandinavia and the Arctic region, is a former research associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He was formerly a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He has lived for a year with the Inugguit, a group of hunters who live on the edge of the Greenland ice sheet in the most northerly inhabited settlement. Last term he gave a lecture in Durham on his experience.
A group of Oxford students have written to Durham saying that Dr Leonard is a “brilliant mind” and that students “had queued up Banbury Road” to get in to his lectures.