An on-campus dispute has left UK academic Niall Ferguson forced to defend himself . The historian colluded with students in a covert political battle against a classmate seen as excessively left-wing, in a row over free speech.
Ferguson, who was involved in the Cardinal Conversations program which brought in guest speakers to Stanford University in the US, became upset by student criticism about some right-wing speakers invited to give guest lectures.
Speakers like Charles Murray, a social scientist accused of engaging in eugenics as he made a name for himself with studies on race and IQ, spoke at Stanford in February on the invitation of the Cardinal Conversations program.
Leaked emails demonstrate Ferguson’s eagerness to stave off what he viewed as encroaching political correctness. The British historian, noted for his books on the history of finance, the First World War and the British Empire, teamed up with a group of student Republicans to launch an attack against another student.
The group of students (and one academic) believed that fellow student Michael Ocon, who had organized rallies against some of the Cardinal Conversations’ more controversial speakers, was excessively left-wing and a threat to on-campus freedom of speech.
In the emails – in which they refer to Ocon as ‘Mr. O’ – sent between the Oxford-Stanford academic and the students, they conspire as to how to discredit the left-leaning classmate.
“Some opposition research on Mr. O might also be worthwhile,” Ferguson wrote in the emails. He then appointed his research assistant, Max Minshull, to dig up dirt on Ocon.
In another email, Ferguson said: “Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”
Leader of the student Republicans John Rice-Cameron – son of Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice – was just as dramatic in the email chain. “Slowly, we will continue to crush the Left’s will to resist, as they will crack under pressure,” he wrote.
Ferguson resigned from his position on the Cardinal Conversations program after the emails were leaked to Stanford University officials.
“It seemed to me that the Cardinal Conversations student steering committee was in danger of being taken over by elements that were fundamentally hostile to free speech,” Ferguson told The Stanford Daily.
“It was, however, rash of me to seek to involve the Stanford Republicans, and reckless to use such inflammatory language.”
Ferguson is a popular historian noted for works such as ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World,’ ‘The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World,’ and ‘Civilization: The West and the Rest,’ all of which he has also presented as Channel 4 television series.
In 2010, Education Secretary Michael Gove asked Ferguson to advise on the development of a new history syllabus, to be entitled ‘history as a connected narrative,’ for schools in England and Wales.
In 2018, Ferguson apologized after fellow historians criticized a Stanford conference on applied history, which he organized, for actively including only white male speakers.
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