A MILLER'S TALE
On Friday 1st October the
We have a duty of care to all students and the wider University community, in addition to a need to apply our own codes of conduct consistently and with integrity. Balancing those important considerations, and after careful deliberation, a disciplinary hearing found Professor Miller did not meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff and the University has concluded that Professor Miller’s employment should be terminated with immediate effect.
The background - or at least some
background – to this decision to dismiss Professor Miller is I think well
known. As I noted in the Jewish News last March,
for some considerable time various Anglo-Jewish organizations had been
complaining ever more menacingly about statements that Professor Miller was
reported to have made concerning Zionism, Jewish students in general and, in
particular, the Jewish Society and Jewish students at
I find [I said] some of the statements attributed to Professor Miller – and the authorship of which he has not denied – to be utterly despicable. I refer, for example, to the statement that appeared online on 18 February 2021, in which he accused Jewish students of being “directed by the State of Israel” to engage in a “campaign of censorship” that endangers Muslim and Arab students as well as non-Zionist Jewish students.
In relation to this 18 February utterance I did not mince my words: “Not only is this statement outrageous [I wrote]. It strikes me as lacking any serious evidential base, and to amount to pure malevolent polemic.”
But I added that, in my view, the right to give offence and to be offensive was integral to the larger right of freedom of expression:
Freedom of expression, even in an academic setting, is not and can never be absolute. Nonetheless I personally draw its boundaries very wide. Within those boundaries academics are entitled to think outrageously and to express outrageous thoughts. The way to address such controversial and even contemptible expressions of opinion is not to confront them through the politics of the megaphone, but to use that precious freedom of expression to demonstrate how wrongheaded and frankly loathsome they really are.
So if the comments complained of did not breach the law of the land, why, nonetheless, was Professor Miller dismissed? Because [to quote again from the University’s announcement], it felt it had “a duty of care to all students and the wider University community, in addition to a need to apply [its] own codes of conduct consistently and with integrity.”
I find this explanation unsatisfactory. I accept that – for example – an academic should not bring her/his employing institution into disrepute. But “disrepute” is open to many interpretations. In any case, the conduct which led to Professor Miller’s dismissal was not – apparently – that he allegedly brought the University of Bristol into disrepute, but that that sundry of his public utterances upset Jewish students – more especially Jewish students at Bristol University.
In the wake of his dismissal, and as one might expect, a miscellany of Anglo-Jewish pressure groups jostled with each other in welcoming this outcome. Of particular interest is the statement published by the Campaign against Antisemitism, which statement suggested that its own threatened legal action against the University might have had something to do with the University’s decision a few weeks later to part company with Professor Miller. “Our legal case against the University [the CAA declared] concerned alleged unlawful harassment on the basis of Jewish ethnicity and Judaism, amounting to breaches of the Equality Act 2010, as well as breaches of contract. We launched pre-action proceedings in late August and the University swiftly realised that it was putting itself in legal jeopardy by sustaining Prof. Miller’s employment at the institution.”
Professor Miller has the right of internal appeal and he could of course also take his case to an Employment Tribunal. In either or both of these forums he might well decide to argue that he acted lawfully at all times and that his dismissal amounted to little more than an attempt by his then employing institution to appease a mésalliance of Jewish and Zionist groups.
This argument would – I’m forced to declare - have more than a grain of truth about it. Indeed, by affecting to appease these groups, the University has in fact given ammunition to those who argue that Professor Miller is a victim of some kind of Jewish and/or Zionist machination. But, lest these triumphant groups get carried away with their victory over Professor Miller and his former employer, I feel duty bound to issue a warning: if at some future date a philosemitic, pro-Zionist academic is forced out of their employment at the behest of a mésalliance of Muslim anti-Zionist lobbies, please don’t say I didn’t warn you!