A Salford University student representative has attacked a letter from a Conservative MP asking for information about teaching materials relating to Brexit at British universities.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the Member of Parliament for Daventry, wrote to universities, including the University of Salford, to request, “[N]ames of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.”
He continued: “Furthermore, if I could be provided with the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area.”
But University of Salford Students’ Union Arts and Media Officer, Jon-Connor Lyons said the MP’s letter was misguided.
“Instead of carrying out a witch hunt on our academics, he should be asking our Vice-Chancellor about the Black attainment gap, about barriers to education, like the lack of funding available to estranged students, like the rising hate crime on our campuses, or about extremely high living costs,” said Lyons.
“This was a pointless exercise, if this is how Chris spends his time on the job, I feel very sorry for his constituents in Daventry.”
Mr Heaton-Harris is now facing an official standards inquiry after bypassing Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson, who was forced to deny the demand was an official government request on Radio 4’s Today.
“A letter that could have been misinterpreted should probably not have been sent,” commented Mr Johnson, adding that it was probably an “academic enquiry” for a book.
Downing Street clarified that Heaton-Harris had not been acting in his capacity as government whip.
A spokesperson for the University of Salford said, “We do not have an official University position on this news story at this stage but will be sure to keep you informed should this change.”
Following accusations of McCarthyism, Heaton-Harris later tweeted, “To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit.”
The MP now faces scrutiny at an official standards inquiry.