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St Andrews students concerned after ‘anti-gay’ professor is hired

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  1. Simon Murphy 11 Aug 2010, 4:33pm

    Is it David Irvine who is the historian who denies the Holocaust?

    Which university does he teach at?

    Scruton is no better than Irvin.

    Oh well – the moment he engages in hatespeech he can be reported to the police and students can exercise their freedom of expression and campaign for his dismissal

  2. He only thinks homosexuality isn’t normal? too be honest, to some degree I don’t see it as normal but some of my best qualities aren’t normal, to be different is hardly shameful.

  3. Yes, it is easy to take words out of context – though I suspect in Roger Scruton’s case a value judgement is probably implied, i.e. I suspect he disapproves of homosexual equality.

    I think St Andrew’s is perfectly within its rights to hire him – I am a strong believer in academic freedom – and students should come to have their views challenged, not re-affirmed (I’d have qualms if he were teaching schoolkids – because in this case some of the pupils might be coming to terms with their own sexuality – but uni is different). The students should, when the occasion arises naturally, challenge him about his views, engage him in argument.

  4. “(I’d have qualms if he were teaching schoolkids – because in this case some of the pupils might be coming to terms with their own sexuality – but uni is different)”

    I’m afraid as the President of a University LGBT Society I have to burst your bubble on that one. I know and have heard about quite a lot of people at university who are still in the closet, and who still haven’t come to terms with their sexuality. I don’t think having someone like Scruton around will help people like that at St Andrews.

    I’m all for academic freedom, when the position being enunciated is based on reasoning and fact. There is, in my view, as much justification for anti-gay beliefs as exists for anti-semitic or racist beliefs (i.e. none) and we don’t appoint people to such high office if they espouse those particular brands of hatred!

    One reason I take such issue with Scruton’s appointment is that it goes against something that the current Principal of St Andrews said when she took away university recognition of the sexist, elitist and racist Kate Kennedy Club:

    “The official endorsement of any club or society which excludes people
    because of their gender or race would be completely at odds with the
    values of this university, and our commitment to foster an open and
    inclusive international community of scholars and students in St

    So the University can’t be seen to support clubs which are exclusive to rich men, but it can appoint to the Professorship somebody with a philosophy which should be “completely at odds with the values of this university”? Right, so we now know what the Principal thinks of homosexuality- it’s a choice not an inherent characteristic.

  5. I have to disagree. Firstly, I recognise that some students may still be closeted, but I think that Unis have a very different function to schools. Universities exist not just to transmit knowledge but to advance it, and this depends crucially on students being exposed to a wide range of views and having their prejudices challenged.

    Roger Scruton is not some ranting Hitlerian figure, he’s a philosopher who is used to expressing his views with a certain degree of reasoning and restraint. Since most students will probably be very pro-gay these days, I think it might not be such a bad thing for students to ask themselves what are the foundations of their views. In the end, this can only strengthen their liberalism, since I think these foundations are strong. I say this both as a gay man and as an academic (I teach first year undergrads at Cardiff Uni).

    You cannot say academic freedom is good provided it is based on ‘reasoning and fact’ – because what is reasonable and factual is precisely what is in dispute. You follow that line, and essentially you’re banning speech and thought contrary to a political ideology. To me, this is not compatible either with free speech or academic freedom – and these things are too important to be compromised.

  6. So you argue that there is sufficient reasoning and fact in Scruton’s arguments that is lacking in the arguments of racists and anti-semites? But where is it? His arguments against homosexuality aren’t based on reason, they’re based on his gut instinct that it’s unnatural and on religion.

    Do you argue that a person’s right to anti-semitism must be defended as it involves “speech and thought contrary to a political ideology”- or does the justifiable exclusion of such people from high academic office apply only when millions, rather than thousands, of the people in question have been murdered simply for being themselves? Double standards, that’s what it is.

    We really ought to stop pandering to homophobes. Let them speak their nonsense if they wish, but don’t give them a big shiny professorial platform to do it from.

  7. Just to give you a quote from the man in question, which I hope demonstrates what I was saying above: “Every now and then, however, we wake up to the fact that, although homosexuality has been normalised, it is not normal… this truth is recognised by all the great religions, and is endorsed in the Christian view of marriage as a union created by God.”

  8. Homosexuality is a normal sexual orientation, it is not the most common sexual orientation but perfectly normal.

  9. Thanks for that quote, Daniel_W. I was just about to google for more detail on Roger Scruton’s views. I’m afraid that confirms my suspicions. I’m sick of people thinking that whom I love is a moral question. I don’t think he’d have been employed if he’s said the same thing about black people.

  10. To Daniel_W (Comment 6.)

    Scruton would, I imagine, strongly disagree with your characterisation of his views. He believes that his views *are* reasonable. Who decides whether his views are reasonable or not? Is the President of the University LGBT society to be the ultimate authority? You haven’t answered the question as to who decides whether a view is contrary to ‘reason and fact’ or not.

    I shall deal directly with your question about anti-semitism etc. The same standards should be applied to all; it doesn’t matter how many people have historically been the victim of prejudice. If someone says “the Jews are a mendacious race who should be denied a place in our society” then such speech would (I imagine) be classified as hate speech and the person would be subject to prosecution. This is the way to tackle hateful speech in an open society – by general impartial laws, not be proscribing specific groups or individuals.

    If someone does *not* make hateful statements of this kind (i.e. is not a ranting idiot), then the university should be free to employ them if they think the person meets their academic standards – even if they’ve maintained things which others *claim* are ‘anti-Semitic’, ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’. Suppose, for example, that an academic expresses the belief that the formation of the state of Israel was a misfortune. There will no doubt be sensitive students who will charge that person with ‘anti-semitism’. Should the academic therefore lose her job?

    In the end, you really have to decide whether you are in favour of freedom of speech and academic freedom or not. To say ‘I’m in favour of free speech, provided the person’s speech is in accord with “reason and fact” (i.e. has the same views as me)’ is not to believe in free speech at all.

  11. Well, Daniel, that says it all about Professor Scrotum, doesn’t it?
    He, like so many “in the great religions” knows exactly what the Creator is thinking having a direct line, of course, through all their ‘holy’ books which have caused and still do cause untold suffe…

    Need I finish that sentence?

    The pox on religions.
    And the pox on Professor Croutons.


  12. I see what you’re saying, JohnnyH, but I felt uneasy when I read that he’d been appointed as a professor of moral philosophy because I imagine it’ll give him more opportunities to express his views than if he was, for example, a professor of French.

    Of course, if he doesn’t say anything that’s illegal, that’s OK, but if I were a student in his class, I’d still feel uneasy knowing that he thought those things about me even if he didn’t express them. And I still object to the idea that who I am is a moral issue.

  13. Roger Scruton on gay adoption; “And since, on the religious view, the only help that can be offered is the provision of a real family, it is no more an act of discrimination to exclude gay couples than it is to exclude incestuous liaisons or communes of promiscuous “swingers”.

    Sorry but what he says strikes me as not reasonable, not because I don’t agree but because it’s based on no logic.

  14. The issue is that there is a double standard. Homophobia is tolerated in academia, government and general discourse to a larger degree than racism, sexism or anti-religious views. We will not be equal until that double standard stops. No one will demand it’s end if we don’t

  15. To Pavlos, it all depends on your definition of normal, I personally see normal as just what is statistically the most common and actually I’m not sure of any other way of defining, well other than including society’s opinion on the abnormal which tends to be a result of people’s dislike and fear of anything different. Homosexuals can be ordinary, normal, boring people but I do see it as abnormal, just like I see many things as abnormal, like not having a tv, eating dry toast, owning a pet turtle, tonnes of random things but a single abnormal thing don’t make a person abnormal, it takes a good portion of the things they do to be abnormal for them to be abnormal. Or that’s how I feel anyway.

  16. Those, Iris, were the points I was trying to get across to JohnnyH. I agree with you completely.

    “Scruton would, I imagine, strongly disagree with your characterisation of his views.” As would any hateful bigot, I imagine. Nor have you defined what constitutes hate speech. I don’t think academic freedom or hate speech are really at issue here because I would tend to say that if a person has said something which makes a reasonably large number of members of the student body feel uncomfortable simply existing in their university then that’s sufficient grounds for a university which supposedly prides itself on openness and inclusiveness not to employ them! Not ban them from speaking, not stop them from attending to speak, just not appointing them to an office under the university to lend them extra legitimacy.

    To clarify, I’m not President of St Andrews LGBT by the way, but of its neighbour and former constituent college Dundee.

  17. @ Daniel_W (Comment 16.)

    I’m still not entirely convinced. It is indeed difficult to define what constitutes incitment to hatred, but there are nevertheless laws that deal with this.

    Do you really believe that a person should be denied an academic appointment if they have expressed an opinion which “makes a reasonably large number of members of the student body feel uncomfortable”? (What number, I wonder, is a “reasonable number”?) I really think students should come to university prepared to have their preconceptions challenged even – if it makes them feel uncomfortable. I teach moral philosophy (amongst other things), and very frequently we explore areas (such as Peter Singer’s views on infanticide) that make students feel uncomfortable. Am I not allowed to discuss (for example) Islam’s treatment of women if there is a Moslem student in my class who is made uncomfortable. I really do fear that your strictures would make the teaching of philosophy virtually impossible.

  18. Sorry for the grammatical errors in the above!

  19. “Islam’s treatment of women” – Well, Islam itself actually treats women rather well, better in fact than traditional Christianity, it’s some Muslim men who don’t. Sounds maybe like some of your preconceptions need challenging in that regard!

    I don’t have a problem with challenging preconceptions. I just honestly do not believe that homosexuality is a subject for moral debate. Infanticide well, that’s hardly an innate characteristic is it?

    When I say uncomfortable, it’s a bit more than that really and I’m sure you must wilfully misunderstand.

    What you don’t seem to grasp is that no University could ever find someone who wants to make all the straight students feel bad about that particular facet of themselves- why do gay people need that sort of wonderful life lesson, eh? And do we need to be challenged by someone who thinks, for example, that interracial marriage is unnatural- but then we never would as academic double standards allow us to question only the morality of the innate characteristic of homosexuality.

    Freedom of speech has limits, and I find people questioning the morality of who I am, what I have no choice to be, to be the limit.

  20. Well said Daniel.

  21. Well, certainly if they’re going to do it at my, or the public’s expense in my university anyway.

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  22. I’m not wilfully misunderstanding (honest), I just want to know what your criterion is for denying academics appointments.

    I totally accept that my preconceptions should be challenged as well! But shouldn’t I have the *right* to argue that Islam is inherently misogynistic, whoever is offended? (It is certainly a homophobic religion, in my opinion.)

    I do understand the idea that homosexuality is not a choice and thus should not be up for moral debate. But I imagine that Scruton would admit that homosexuality is not a choice. He would just claim that homosexuals should not (e.g.) have the right to adopt. Personally, I think that homophobic Christians should not have the right to adopt. I want the right to say this, however offensive it might be to Christians.

    To deal directly with your point about interracial marriage: If someone said (seriously) that interracial marriage were unnatural, they might be breaking the law, but if they *had* said this in the past and they *weren’t* breaking the law and the university *still* thought they met with the appropriate academic standards, then, yes, the university should have the *right* to appoint them (though I, at any rate, would seriously begin to doubt the university’s own academic standards.) And what about the academics of the past? Thomas Aquinas thought homosexuality unnatural, should we ban his works from the classroom? Really, aren’t we here just dealing with attempting to rationalise the impulse to ban anything we don’t agree with?

    To me, academic freedom is just too important. I admit that there is a contrary point of view which has some merit, and you’ve given me some points to think about, but I suppose I just fear a situation where University appointments have to be cleared with whoever happens to be in authority, and anyone with an eccentric or non-mainstream opinion is effectively denied a job. It sounds too McCarthyist for my liking.

    Sorry for writing at length. Some things can’t be said in a soundbite.

  23. I have no idea whether Roger Scruton thinks homosexuality is a choice or not, but when I see him using words like ‘agenda’ and ‘lifestyle’ then I’d have to guess it’s the latter.

    This is a quote from his blog: “The propaganda that has tried to rewrite heterosexuality as an “orientation” is really an attempt to persuade us to overlook the real truth about sexual union, which is that it is, in its normal form, the way in which one generation gives way to the next.”

    To me that doesn’t sound that different from some of the fundies who appear on Pink News occasionally.

    I don’t think homophobic Christians should adopt either :D But Christianity is a choice and being gay isn’t, so I don’t think they’re comparable. I think it’s OK to criticise people’s choices (respectfully) but it’s totally wrong to attack people simply because of who they are and the fact that they love another consenting adult of the same sex.

    I don’t think Mr Scruton’s views are eccentric – that would imply they were just slightly amusing and would do no harm – I personally think they’re potentially damaging to students and much as I like academic freedom to, I think we need to draw the line somewhere. As 1of18000 said, it’s the double standards that offend as much as anything.

  24. How wonderful to read a structured and well thought out debate on here with no name calling or insults. Thank you Daniel_W and JohnnyH.

  25. @15.
    Well Blondie, I think you are slightly confusing normal with what is the average, the occurance of homosexuality is not so uncommon throughout the human population as to make it abnormal.
    With regards moral norms, Homosexuality is no more a moral issue than ginger hair is a moral issue and I think Scruton might know something about that, although I think his gingerish looking hair is probably dyed rather than natural.

  26. Well, if it helps JohnnyH, I can understand your fears and I do appreciate your point of view.

    I just don’t equate not giving this man a professorship with denying his freedom of speech, and being the start of a slippery slope to a world with no academic diversity. This isn’t just an eccentric or non-mainstream opinion, it’s one which is deeply offensive and constitutes an attack on people for things beyond their control, it’s also an opinion which isn’t exactly vital to the furtherance of human knowledge- it’s a debate about something which should be beyond debate and one which has already been, quite frankly, done to death anyway- by people like Aquinas, who of course lived in very different times. (Although, I know now you will ask who I am to judge what is and isn’t vital? But then, who is qualified?)

    I would see it as consistent with the university’s stated policies of non-discrimination not to appoint him and consistent with wise use of public funds as well. It’s not like, if he wanted to do research or teach in a private setting, he couldn’t find employment by a private body.

    I do have to smile at the suggestion of it being McCarthyist, it would be a true case of revenge being a dish best served cold, but I don’t honestly believe that’s it. I don’t want to ban Scruton, but I think that St Andrews is doing wrong by appointing someone with his moral philosophy to said professorship- if one looks at the quality of his arguments about this issue, it’s not even as if they’re particularly good. Heck, if he had something original to say, I might even think him worthy of the position anyway!

    Clearly we aren’t going to agree on this, but from the quality of this argument I’m glad that I shall be watching the goings on in St Andrews as a largely disinterested observer half an hour away. Although if invited I can’t deny I do like a good protest!

  27. Eeeeek! Did I just say “disinterested” when I meant “uninterested”? No, no. I am disinterested as what happens at St Andrews doesn’t really affect my members in Dundee… I think. I’m certainly not uninterested. lol.

    Oh and cheers Leilah. :D

  28. JohnnyH: I quite like your line of thought – thank you for expressing it. I wouldn’t ban him from teaching school children though – as a parent who quite possibly sides with the professor on this subject I would have equal qualms if my child was taught something was normal that isn’t?

    We don’t know the details of what the professor believes but there are a significant number I am sure who believe that homosexuality is not normal and have reservations over some aspects of the “equality agenda”. Assuming he has been appointed on merit and providing he keeps within the constraints laid down by the university (I note he has signed up to their equal opportunities policy), I think it can be a positive move for the university and hope it will lead to critical examination of ideas which is what I thought a subject like philosophy is all about.

    Might I suggest one of the philisophical debates could be “what is normal” and “is normality desirable”?

  29. I agree that it is not an infringement of ‘free speech’ as such. But to disqualify someone from an academic appointment when they have been selected on the basis of academic criteria, because we deeply and profoundly (and justifiably) diagree with their moral opinions is surely an infringement of academic freedom by definition. And I think it does smack of MacCarthyism. It reminds me of Bertrand Russell being denied an appointment at the City College of New York because he supposedly advocated free love and atheism.

    I agree with everything you say *about* his views. I.e. that his opinion is hardly important to the furtherance of human knowledge; that it is deeply offensive; that it is totally ghastly to attack people for who they are, and that being gay is obviously not a matter of choice (though, if it were, it still wouldn’t be wrong).

    I admit to being rather conflicted on this issue, epsecially from reading the above posts. But then when I leave the computer screen and make myself a cup of coco, I find myself thinking: there are so many thousands of academics in the country and nearly all of them are pro-gay (certainly in my department at Cardiff). Just one academic is old-fashioned and silly enough to believe some nonsense about the Christian family and homosexuality being wrong. Can we not tolerate just the one? But (to repeat) I do now find myself conflicted.

  30. 21stCenturySpirituality 11 Aug 2010, 11:19pm

    Normal is a button on a washing machine.

  31. BobbetStillTheSame 12 Aug 2010, 1:53am

    We can expect this University must also be harbouring many racists for their philosophical debates.

  32. Mihangel apYrs 12 Aug 2010, 7:16am


    His opinions matter because of the affect they will have on erstwhile students.

    As a black student wouldn’t feel that they would be fairly treated by someone who holds racist opinions, would a gay or lesbian student feel confident of fair treatment if they were out, or if they opposed their teacher.

    You mentioned a hypothetical case of the existance of Israel: that is a matter that can be objectively debated, the existance of gays and lesbians (the abnormal) is a fact of life, and the only debate is whether the abnormality is excised.

    Acedemia must have intellectual freedom (though it has never been absolute), but is it also to be a haven for bigots just to maintain their freedom to be a*holes?

  33. +it doesn’t matter about challenging students as he’s not there to challenge students over sexuality and some students may not be able to cope with homophobia
    normal is a stupid concept as there’s no such thing, people vary in all-sorts of ways from each other, would a teacher with racist or other bigoted views get as accepted or is it only sexuality bigotry that is OK there?

  34. Is professor Scruton of homosexual orientation himself I wonder? Many homophobes are self-hating homosexuals themselves, hiding behind anti-gay blather like his about what’s normal etc.

    The wild bushy hair he has at times sported appears to have changed colour from brown through various shades of almost early Quentin Crisp-like ginger and strawberry blonde to it’s perhaps presently grey colour.
    Roger Scruton has, to me at least, an aura of an embittered, closetted gay man about him.

  35. I agree with above. I only wish I knew why they talked about it so much. The more vocal the queerer they are it seems, just look at the pope.

  36. The LGBT voice in the UK is a lot stronger than it has ever been and it will only get louder.

    Freedom of speech and debate is one thing but I pity the fool who abuses them.

  37. Sorry, the students whining about this have no leg to stand on. They effectively say, they cannot take him on!

    He has had plenty of positions before – he is the predecessor of AC Grayling at Birkbeck. No fuss was made then.

    Philosophy students should welcome the challenge to take on this great mind – light comes from heat. I actually envy those who will be hearing his lectures.

    John Corvino has some great arguments to counter Scruton’s by the way. Maybe Pink News could have these two battle it out on here? :-)

  38. @37, John Corvino is great Adrian, I often read his stuff at Independent Gay Forum, I imagine he would easily mop the floor in any debate with Roger Scruton.

  39. I agree with AdrianT. A lot of the posts above seem to assume that students are wholly passive shrinkng violets and will just absorb everything their tutors say like sponges. If they do, they’re not much good at Uni. And this certainly isn’t the case with my students at Cardiff where I teach. I frequently assert things in an utterly authoritative tone – only to be flatly contradicted by my students; which is great, of course, and I encourage it since it leads to lively discussions. This is why I don’t agree that Scruton’s opinion can ‘harm’ students. These are adults we’re dealing with, not children. Honestly, Uni students aren’t that fragile.

    The ‘fair treatment’ is a red herring – he’s signed up to the Uni’s anti-discrimination policy, and in any case it’s not obvious how precisely he’d ‘discriminate’ against homosexuals in an academic setting.

    Academics must certainly obey the laws regarding speech. But to say that academic freedom should not be ‘absolute’ is to allow that governments, or students who feel ‘uncomfortable’, or ‘concerned citizens’, should have the right to remove an academic. This would make the teaching of philosophy impossible.

  40. Mihangel apYrs 12 Aug 2010, 2:31pm

    So JohnnyH it would be OK to have a known racist governing the academic futures of BME students? Discrimination can be very subtle, how can a student prove that a poor performance is due to bias rather than inability?

    Talking about academic fredom: a lot of academics call for boycott of Israel academic staff, and previously those from SA. If academic freedom is absolute then these people committed a serious wrong

  41. When you say ‘known racist’, known by whom, precisely? If someone is a longstanding and virulent critic of Israeli policy, does this make them anti-Semitic? This is hardly an academic question (if you’ll pardon the pun). Critics of Israeli policy are routinely accused of anti-Semitism.

    If we are dealing with some ranting idiot racist then I can’t imagine that such a person would be offered an academic appointment. Roger Scruton is not a *ranting* homophobe. His views might be profoundly wrong, but this should be argued. As a matter of fact, they do make a kind of sense within the tradition from which he speaks. I totally diagree with him because I disagree with the tradition, but he’s no fool.

    I’m pretty sure that he is not going to give students poor marks for being gay! That would indeed by an outrage, but I’m sure he wouldn’t want to do this. Do you have any evidence that he would?

    But what are you afraid of anyway? Do you really think that the students will just agree with everything he says, especially as they will have their own firmly held views, and they will also be listening to other academics, who will all (I suspect) be completely opposed to Mr Scruton? Have more faith in the capacity of students to think for themselves.

  42. de Villiers 12 Aug 2010, 3:52pm

    The quotes I have assumed are from Scruton’s book published in 1986, “Sexual Desire”. As I understand it, his position comes from the primacy of desire for the person as spirit embodied in flesh. This is uniquely human and divides us from animals who desire only sensation. Desire for a person, as opposed to merely their body in contrast to sensation, demands mutuality and sacrifice.

    The function of marriage, according to Scruton, and the traditional views and morality surrounding it were directed to the fulfilment of desire as the overflowing of accumulated erotic energy channeled by social boundaries of shame. That same level of shame promoted stable family life and sociable grounding. It’s religious consecration symbolised its permanency and raised it above merely secular agreement or transaction. Thus the breaking of the bond was sacrilegious.

    According to Scruton, homosexual marriage changes the nature of marriage. For him, marriage was the union of two people, lovers bound by desire, made upon on an altar of sacrifice. It was something in which future generations yet unborn had a claim. Civil marriage, such as in my home country France, alters, for Scruton, what is sacred to something that is contractual. As marriage becomes contractual and secular, it takes on the transient nature of secular agreements and contracts, to be dissolved when no longer wanted.

    The changing of marriage into something that is secular, according to Scruton, has resulted in increased levels of divorce, family breakdown, child neglect and abuse and social poverty. To take a further step and endorse gay marriage would be to make it no more than contractual cohabitation. It would be shorn of its original purpose which was procreation and the sharing of social capital. The very institution would be changed beyond recognition and would lose the special place it occupies currently in our moral ethics.

    Such a view, if I have expressed it properly, is based not on homophobia or an irrational hatred of homosexuals. The view may be rather conservative and perhaps idealised. But it would be wrong and a disservice to the level of philosophical thought, to dismiss it as mere hatespeech.

  43. de Villiers 12 Aug 2010, 3:54pm

    > It’s religious consecration symbolised its permanency and raised it above merely secular agreement or transaction. Thus the breaking of the bond was sacrilegious.

    Should be “Its” not “It’s”.

  44. PumpkinPie 12 Aug 2010, 4:51pm

    I’d wager that a racist with similar views would not be allowed to teach. Saying “inter-race relationships are not normal or desirable” is exactly the same as this Scrotun’s statements. It is not overtly hateful (still disgusting and unfounded), yet it would still be deemed unacceptable and anyone caught saying it would lose their job.

    My main qualm with our so-called “freedom of speech” is its inequality. Why should gay people have to put up with this rubbish when ethnic minorities don’t have to? Either open up criticism to all, or eliminate it for all. And, as the government will never change its policies on racism, then I suppose the logical choice is to support a ban on the hiring of people like Scrotun, just as his racist peers are banned.

    If anyone has issues with that, I’d like to know how you think it’s fair that one sort of minority is allowed to be criticised, but another isn’t. As a gay person, I’m not glad to have the esteemed honour of facilitating open debate, I’m just sick and tired of being everybody’s bloody guinea pig.

    Also, I feel bad for these students. A man with such illogical views can teach them nothing of worth. If, as AdrianT points out, he is so easily demolished by other philosophers, he’s not arming his students very well. There’s talk here of it being a good opportunity for students to exercise their debating skills. This is only true for postgraduate students. Undergraduate students must first be taught before they can practice. This fool isn’t fit to teach anyone. His students will leave armed with rhetoric, oratory and manipulation, not logic.

  45. PumpkinPie: “Undergraduate students must first be taught before they can practice”. As an undergraduate tutor I can only say: wrong, wrong, WRONG. Philosophy is only taught through discussion, not through some sort of heiratic handing down of knowledge.

    I agree with de Villiers. To compare Scruton with ‘racists’ trivialises real racism and real homophobia.

    Think of the philosophers of the last 100 years – e.g. Heidegger, Wittgenstein. They had views that were, to say the least, very dodgy indeed. Should students have not been allowed to come into intellectual contact with them? You can learn from people without accepting their views on everything. I have no doubt that the students at St. Andrew’s will benefit from contact with Roger Scruton.

  46. ‘hieratic’, not ‘heiratic’. Sorry.

  47. Mihangel apYrs 12 Aug 2010, 5:45pm

    You have a rather naive trust in fairness in relationships between people with unequal power, eg that between a manager and someone working for them, or indeed a tutor and a student. As I said, bigotry isn’t always overt or even conscious, but if someone has distaste for a race, coolour religion or whatever, they may treat that person less well, or offer less.

    PS You didn’t answer my point about academic boycotts.

  48. de Villiers 12 Aug 2010, 6:01pm

    > PS You didn’t answer my point about academic boycotts.

    It is seriously wrong.

  49. Re: boycotts. I have to admit I do not know a great deal about this issue. Why were some academics calling for a boycott of Israeli academic staff? Personally, it seems strikingly unethical to punish academics for the misdeeds of governments over which they have no control. Israel does silly things, but let’s remember it is a democratic country. There was recently a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem, something which would be utterly *unthinkable* in any of the surrounding states.

    But returning to Scruton: I’m sorry, but you’ve offered no evidence that Roger Scruton is going to use his ‘unequal power’ to ‘treat a student less well’ or ‘offer less’. Just because A disagrees with B it does not follow that A will treat B badly, if in a position of ‘unequal power’. In one of my classes last year, I had a strong believing Christian. I am an atheist. Does this mean that I shouldn’t have taught them because I might have used my ‘unequal power’ to harm them in some unspecified manner? Besides being a libel which I would justifiably resent, I don’t think it would work for students to only be taught by tutors who share their beliefs.

  50. Mihangel apYrs 12 Aug 2010, 8:36pm

    you sound a happy confident chap, totally at ease with your sexuality, assertive but not aggessive, and a good teacher.

    Now imagine: you’re 19, coming to terms with your sexuality, a bit shy, and your placed with the great Roger SCRUTON, who considers you abnormal. Are you going to be confident that he won’t look through you, or just give you the contracted amount of tutoring, while he may give “favoured” students that bit extra? Can you be sure that he won’t, unconsciously, be a bit harer on you than the others? Because he has a distaste for you as a living entity (not for any belief)?

    THAT is the issue: an inequality of power where a known opinion disadvantages someone just because it’s held.

    However, I don’t think I’ll convince you. You see your students, happy to argue with you, to disagree, because they know Johnny will be fair, as the totality.

    The Israel boycott followed the last major action in Gaza, and is a debatable issue.

    You didn’t answer whether the boycott against the academics in apartheid South Africa was justified. I’m not trying to be awkward, but it is necessary to know whether your stance is absoute.

  51. Sister Mary Clarance 12 Aug 2010, 9:30pm

    David, I don’t think this is really an issue of hate speech as you refer. Would you want somebody with bigoted and unpleasant views teaching your kids? Most people would answer ‘no’ to that question. If he is smart enough to word his intolerance in such a way that he manages to stay within the law, then good luck to him, but would I want him teaching my kids – no!

    It does reflect rather on the university in that is clearly indicates what little emphasis they give to their own equalities policy at staff interviews. Could they really not have found someone who operate within its parameters?

  52. If I’m being cagey about my ‘stance’ on boycotts it’s because, to be honest, I’m not sure. I assume its a sort of ‘sanction’ against countries with vicious regimes, like sporting boycotts. I’m not sure that they *are* a good idea, really, but I wouldn’t want to pronounce definitively in an issue I haven’t thought about enough. But *if* such sanctions were justified, they would presumably be justified as an action against a *regime* – or the society that supported it – not against specific individuals on account of their personal views. (After all, a lot of the inhabitants of a country have no responibility for the deeds of their government, but they are affected by sanctions just the same.) Scruton is not working for a vicious regime. In other words, I’m not entirely clear how the issues are connected.

    I really don’t think Scruton is going to be tougher on someone because they resent them as a ‘living entity’. That seems a tad ungenerous, don’t you think? You don’t know Scruton.

    To your hypothetical 19 year old I can only wonder why, if they were concerned by this, they chose to go to St. Andrews! And then why they disclose to Scruton that they were gay!

    But if you believe what you say, then you are presumably saying that Scruton’s agreement to the university’s anti-discrimination policy is a fraud – that he *will* discriminate. Personally, I think it is really not good at all to deny someone a job on the basis of unsupported prejudice against a man you don’t know. If a student feels they are discriminated against then they should make a omplaint. These things are treated *very* seriously. But I don’t agree that Scruton is bound to be unconsciously ‘harder’ on one pupil than another. (These days, even essay papers are marked ‘blind’ so it’s difficult to see how a tutor could exercise even an unconscious bias, but that’s by the by.)

    Don’t forget, pupils generally only have a particular tutor for one subject in one term – then they move on to others. And throughout this time they’ll be hearing other academics in their lectures (if they can be bothered to attend) and talking with other students. I’m not even sure Scruton will be teaching first years. Generally, Unis farm out first year tuition to researchers (like myself), not *tenured* academics.

    I really don’t recognise this portrait of students as passive victims. My students are incredibly strident and passionate about their views, and I imagine the same is true in Scotland.

    OK, this has been a bunch of disconnected points. I suppose the essential thing is that I don’t think that allegations of unfair treatment of students levelled against Mr Scruton (even before he starts!) are justified.

  53. Woah! I’ve just seen how lengthy that reply was – Sorry!

  54. @Sister Mary Clarance

    These students are hardly ‘kids’! They’re all 18 or over. At what age are they to be permitted to listen to people whose opinions we disapprove of? (There is a persistent tendancy here to present the students as though they were helpless infants, and it isn’t even close to reality.)

  55. Mihangel apYrs 13 Aug 2010, 7:13am

    Damn, I made a long, erudite totally overwhelming response to JohnnyD last night, but it’s vanished!!

    I think we’ll have to disagree, as I can’t be bothered to reproduce it.

    I would just say that one can be disadvantaged without knowing it, perhaps by subtle differences of treatment, and can disadvantage unconsiously. And can perform less well because one believes that someone is subconsiously hostile towards one.

    I don’t worry too much for the self-confident , I have got concerns for the less so

  56. As well as being anti-gay it appears Scruton also believes his world is under attack from “fundamentalist” secularism…tragic really and it’s also tragic that some people call this the thinking of a great mind.

  57. Sister Mary Clarance 13 Aug 2010, 8:15am

    JohnnyH, you appear to be under the illusion that a young person that has spend almost all of his/her entire life at an academic institution of one sort or another is fully equipped with the experience and life skills to make sound judgment in every aspect of their lives.

    As most employers will tell you there are far from it. What we often find is they are emotionally immature, naive, lacking in any/all worldly experience, and in need of quite a lot of support in adjusting to the real world.

    Ironically too, much of their preparedness for the world out their will depended on how well their have been made ready for it by people like their professors at university.

    All the more reason for ensuring that those people charged with the developments of young minds are absolutely the most suitable people to do so.

    Whilst many students may at this stage be able to determine what is good and healthy for them and what is not to a large extent (and clearly from the response from the student body some can), it is the the quieter, less forthright ones that may be wrestling with all sorts of confusions and doubts that Scruton may pose more harm to.

    Why is the university even taking the risk of exposing young people in its care to these types of views? Its like an unmonitored experiment waiting to go wrong. It only takes one mind to be damaged to cause untold harm.

    The university has an equal ops policy. It is not supposed to be picked up and dropped whenever people choose, and yet the Dean appears to be wiping his @rse with it at the moment

  58. Scruton On homosexuality:
    ‘Our acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle, of same-sex couples, and of the gay scene has not eliminated our sense that these are alternatives to something, and that it is the other thing that is normal.

    ‘This other thing is not heterosexual desire, conceived as an “orientation”. It is heterosexual union: the joining of man and woman, in an act which leads in the natural course of things not just to mutual commitment but to the bearing of children, the raising of a family and the self-sacrificing habits on which, when all is said and done, the future of society depends.’

    Yes,…and Goldilocks tried the largest bed but it was too hard, she tried the medium sized bed but it was too soft, she tried the smallest bed…Ah it was just right!
    What suits one man does not suit another I’d say,so stick that in your philosophers pipe Scruton.

  59. “Why is the university even taking the risk of exposing young people in its care to these types of views?” I would say: Because young adults should have the right and the opportunity to be “exposed” to all sorts of views.

    I’d also ask: Should *everything* be tailored to the most psychologically fragile? This may seem a little harsh, but, to be honest, if they are *that* fragile then perhaps Uni is not for them. Why should they stop others from studying with Mr Scruton? Remember: these are adults, not children, who have chosen to study philosophy at St Andrews – some may choose St Andrews precisely because of Roger Scruton. They should not be denied this opportunity.

  60. de Villiers 13 Aug 2010, 11:36am


    Taking sentences of Scruton’s work and presenting them without the surrounding context does not prove your point. It is not enough to shout and swear without addressing the fundamental argument – which requires it to be understood properly.

    It may be that Scruton’s underlying religiosity and belief in God have led him to develop a theory of desire, society and marriage that, for him, depend upon religion and which require the exclusion of same-sex union and secularity. However, it is necessary not to attack the underlying belief but to tackle the expressed philosophy which is the result.

    That said, it seems clear to me that Scruton’s position is not based on homophobia, ie. an irrational hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality as opposed to a fundamental disagreement on the role of homosexuality within society and the nature of the institutions on which society is based.

  61. @60:
    Shout and swear?…who me? I really don’t think so de Villiers.

    Scruton has a quasi-religious/romantic belief in something he calls “natural order”, it’s basically the old “Adam and Eve not Adam & Steve” malarkey, that is not a philosophical standpoint at all but rather a theosophical one.

  62. Pavlos, I agree and it’s that that disturbs me because such people brook no argument because they ‘have faith’. I fail to see how one can have philosophical discussions with someone who can revert to faith at any moment.

    I don’t think Roger Scruton’s homophobic, just misguided. JohnnyH, I worked on a Helpline when I was at Uni. I think it’s a bit unkind to call people who have problems ‘fragile’ as it implies they’re having an abnormallly sensitive reaction to something. I used to think that about some matters (“Why don’t they just pull themselves together” etc) but then I learnt that intelligent, strong people can suffer problems too, and that’s not a reflection on them and can have many causes.

    I’ve walked out of lectures where the lecturer was saying things that I believed were inexcusably racist, and I’d do the same to soemone who made offensive comments or untrue statements about gay people (not suggesting that Mr Scruton will do that). I wonder about the neutrality, if that’s the right word, of someone who appears to be so religious.

  63. Also @ 60 de Villiers wrote:
    “That said, it seems clear to me that Scruton’s position is not based on homophobia, ie. an irrational hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality as opposed to a fundamental disagreement on the role of homosexuality within society and the nature of the institutions on which society is based.”

    Well, Inasmuch as Scruton’s anti-gay rhetoric seems to hail from a belief in the superiority of heterosexual breeding relationships, he reluctantly acknowledges that our present society requires same sex relationships to be treated equally while promoting his own belief that they frankly are not equal.
    Go tell the Chinese that the bearing of children is the thing on which the future of society depends… where they are forcibly sterilising people in a desperate bid to keep the population from rising so rapidly … all the awful knock-on consequences of that.

    There is the romantic, religious version of natural order where God provides all needs…”go forth and multiply… exhaust the natural resources of the Earth because they are put there for your use by a loving God who will provide”. There is no home for homosexuals in this heterocentric and what sounds very much like creationist world-view, homosexuals are simply an anomaly, diversity is devalued. We should all be exactly the same, that’s heterosexual, and we should all have as our aim marriage and reproduction (in that “very natural” order) and thus be crowned normal by the likes of Scruton.
    Then there is the biological & evolutionary scientific “natural order” that recognises the altruistic and many other roles that homosexual individuals in populations fill, diversity is viewed as a powerful safety net against extinction, homosexuality is not a moral issue and is firmly at home with it’s place in nature.
    Think I know which model fits the real world best and it’s not Scruton’s

  64. Well, I understand your point and I don’t want to sound completely heartless, but I think it *is* an abnormally sensitive reaction if someone can’t cope with sharing a university with a person who has traditional Christian views on homosexuality – even if, for a time, they have that person as one of their tutors or lecturers. The *world* is full of people who have views like Scruton’s – and others won’t express them with such urbanity and intellectual sophistication. So perhaps these sensitive souls should be cordoned off from the world. (Or just attend a different philosophy department.)

    Now if Mr Scruton says something genuinely demeaning or homophobic, then that’s another matter altogether. If someone phoned your Helpline saying that a tutor was demeaning them, then I hope you’d advise them to report that academic, and get the academic disciplined – possibly even sacked (depending on the precise details). But I still think it’s an outrageous slander to assume that Scruton will demean his pupils, just because we don’t agree with his views.

  65. “Like all members of staff, Prof Scruton will be expected to abide by our equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies.”

    The above sounds fine by me, I disagree with them but I don’t think Scruton should be barred from his position at St Andrews merely because of the cranky heterocentric personal opinions he holds.

  66. JohnnyH – I was careful to say that I wasn’t implying Scruton would demean his pupils and I also said that I personally didn’t believe he was homophobic. Nor do I think his mere presence will upset students. However, the fact that the Uni probably wouldn’t employ someone with offensive racist views, yet are happy to employ someone known to hold anti-gay views might make some people feel…upset? disappointed? confused? I don’t know.

    Does the Uni employ people whose genuinely held religious beliefs lead them to believe that the world’s 6,000 years old? Should that belief be given equal weighting with scientific ones? I suppose that’s a whole different question :D

  67. Someone who believed that the Earth was 6000 years old would not meet even minimal academic standards. Creation ‘science’ isn’t science, whatever certain religious types might like you to think. Philosophy is not quite the same as science, it doesn’t have the same body of more or less uncontested facts. It does advance, after a fashion, but the nature of the advance is different, and rather difficult to characterise.

    I’m not sure about the parallel between anti-gay views of the Scruton variety and straightforward racism, but I’ll let that pass for now, because I want to eat my tea! Thanks for a very interesting and enlightening debate.

  68. The usual gay squealers again,despite so called equality people are still but only just allowed freedom of speech,stop wingeing and accept that you are un-naturals.

  69. Interesting that a number of people here are comparing hiring a homophobic lecturer with a racist one. In my experience of Scruton, he is both! I attended a lecture last year in which he attempted to make the argument that Western classical music is more noble and civilised than “the music of the Chinese and the Japanese” and that listening to Western classical music is good for one’s character, whereas listening to other music turns people into barbarians and encourages promiscuity.

  70. I’m sorry, but that’s not racist. He’s also criticised western rock music. I personally don’t like a great deal of rap music and think it glamorizes violence and misogyny. Does this make me a racist? The emotive words ‘racism’ and ‘homophobia’ are being invoked to justify MacCarthyism, and its both dishonest and illiberal.

  71. I think it would depend exactly what he said, JohnnyH – could be an innocent opinion, could be racist. We don’t know without seeing the actual words he spoke and in context so I remain absolutely neutral on that one.

  72. If you care about facts and ‘context’ you may find yourself without allies! McCarthyites don’t tend to care for such nuances.

    Nothing in chloea’s report justified her assertion of racism. His wider views on culture have been published in numerous books and, yes, he is an unashamed proponent of western ‘high’ culture. This does not justify a charge of racism.

    I really dislike hiphop music. In some ways it is indeed ‘corrupting’ in my opinion (glamorising violence, casual misogyny and homophobia). Am I therefore racist?

    I’m sorry to keep going on about this. I suppose as an academic myself I just hate the thought of my utterances being monitored for suspect thoughts. In fact, I couldn’t do my job under such conditions. If you don’t want mediocre teachers, if you want interesting people with interesting ideas, then you have to accept that occasionally they’re going to be un-PC. It isn’t the end of the world.

  73. No problem – you’re not ‘going on about this’. You’re making intelligent comments and I’ve been interested to read what you say and think about the points you’ve made.

    No, you’re not a racist for hating hiphop or rap music if you have ‘real’ reasons – ie the misogyny, etc. I hate most rap music too too – and the soft porn sexualisation of women in some of the videos. Having that kind of opinion is fine. I was thinking about what would be racist in my view, and I guess it’s an opinion that’s SOLELY based on race and has derogatory implications about race and contains no logic, no reason behind it other than bigotry.

    I have a particular issue with people who use the Bible to justify anti-gay views (I’m using the word ‘anti-gay instead of homophobic because it’s not meant to be a judgemental word) because many times what they say lacks logic – ie the ‘proof’ they use to justify their views is an incorrect translation/interpretation of the Bible.

    Of course, people are entitled to hold whatever views they like, and rightly so. But – and I’m moving well on from Roger Scruton here – some are either wrong (eg clouds are made of marshmallows) or offensive. I know you’re probably not afan of drawing a line :D But I think sometimes that lines has to be drawn. We drawn a line for actions – ie some things you might want to do, but are forbidden from doing so (eg stealing) – so why not for speech?

    I know there’s no definite place where that line should be drawn, but surely most people police themselves and think before they speak?

  74. Sorry – “lines HAVE to be drawn”

  75. If everyone flunks out of his classes, I would presume he would get the proverbial………..

    Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the asshole on the way out.

    But he probably would on purpose. A substitue for the dick he probably craves.

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