University head insists giving Tony Sewell degree would upset students

University head insists giving Tony Sewell degree would upset students

April 12, 2022

University won’t back down on race tsar snub as head insists giving Tony Sewell degree honour would upset students

  • Nottingham University confirmed it will continue to deny an honorary degree from Dr Tony Sewell, the government’s race and ethnic disparities chairman 
  • Nottingham University claimed the controversy would overshadow its degree ceremony, making the students and their families upset when graduating
  • Other recipients include former Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who dismissed Uighur re-education camps as ‘fake news’ 
  • A group of 50 Tory MPs wrote to the university to demand a rethink

Nottingham University refused to reverse its decision to withdraw an honorary degree from Dr Tony Sewell, chairman of the Commission on race and ethnic disparities

A university has refused to reverse its decision to deny the Government’s race tsar an honorary degree.

The head of Nottingham University claims controversy over the award would overshadow its degree ceremony, upsetting students and their families.

The Daily Mail revealed last month that Nottingham had withdrawn its offer to Tony Sewell after his controversial report concluding there was no evidence that the UK is institutionally racist. The report led to angry outbursts from Labour and the race relations lobby.

A group of 50 Tory MPs wrote to the university to demand a rethink, pointing out that Nottingham had given honorary degrees to Chinese diplomats who deny their country’s Uighur genocide.

Now vice-chancellor Professor Shearer West says that going ahead with the award to Dr Sewell – who won his PhD at Nottingham in 1995 – would overshadow its students’ own graduation ceremonies.

She said that because honorary degrees were conferred at the same events the rules had been changed some years ago ‘to preclude awards to figures who – either consciously or through no fault of their own – become the subject of political controversy, so that a day of celebration for our graduates does not also attract such controversy’.

This was ‘to ensure our graduates do not have a potential distraction overshadow their celebration’.

Professor West said that if the award had gone ahead ‘it would have left our graduates and their families with a diminished experience for this essential rite of passage, particularly when so many have been denied this very special day by the Covid-19 pandemic and have had to wait’.

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, who organised the letter, said: ‘The university are wriggling on the hook.

The excuse that Tony Sewell’s honorary degree might have disturbed graduating students is about as thin as it could possibly be.

Nottingham withdrew its offer to Tony Sewell after his controversial report concluded there was no evidence the UK is institutionally racist. Other recipients include former Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who dismissed Uighur re-education camps as ‘fake news’

‘The implication is that the students are such snowflakes and are so unused to robust argument and counter-argument after three years studying at Nottingham that they can’t cope with what the university calls controversy.’

The MPs’ letter criticised the decision to rescind Dr Sewell’s degree ‘simply because he earned the ire of a few frustrated ideologues for his widely welcomed work’ on the Government’s race report.

They added: ‘Dr Sewell is a uniquely distinguished alumnus of your university, having spent years helping thousands of black children from poor backgrounds into higher education.’

They pointed out the ‘absurdity’ of the decision when other recipients of honorary degrees from Nottingham included former Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who dismissed Uighur re-education camps as ‘fake news’, and Najib Razak, the ex-Malaysian PM jailed for 12 years for embezzlement.

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