LSE professor Simon Hix renewed his defence of Toby Young on Twitter last week, claiming that the disgraced right-wing journalist is the victim of a “witch hunt.” Young resigned from the board of the government’s new Office for Students (OfS) on Tuesday 9th amid criticism of his prior comments about women, lesbians and disabled people, as well as allegations from politicians and newspapers that he is a “eugenicist.”
Posting on the social media site after Young’s comments had resurfaced but before he was accused of being a eugenicist, Hix said that Young was “committed to public education, academic excellence, and greater opportunities…I’m sure he will bring fresh ideas to OfS.”
Ellie Knott, Assistant Professor in the LSE Methodology department, replied: “some of those fresh ideas include that it is possible to be a mediocre individual and grotesque misogynist and get into positions of power. This isn’t fresh. It’s the last 3000 years.”
Hix has been a professor in the LSE Government department for 20 years and has held a senior role at the institution since 2004. On Friday, following Young’s resignation and the emergence of allegations about eugenics, Hix renewed his defence, claiming that: “The witch hunt is getting a bit ridiculous. By all means criticise [Young] for his insulting, misogynist and childish tweeting, and his friendship with Boris and chums. But the guy is not a neo-Nazi eugenicist.”
In response, Tess Wheldon, an LSE Government student, said: “Weren’t you defending [Young’s] misogynistic comments less than a week ago?”
When asked to clarify why he had used the heavily loaded term “witch hunt”, Hix told The Beaver that: “Maybe witch-hunt was the wrong phrase. I was trying to make the point that…like a witch-hunt, people are repeating inaccurate claims of others and making ever more exaggerated claims…He is not a neo-Nazi, which is a very dangerous claim to throw around.”
Since the OfS came into legal existence on 1st January, Young’s back-catalogue has been scrutinised. It includes tweets about posing as a lesbian to “make out with them”, derogatory comments about women’s breasts, and an article criticising the “inclusive” use of wheelchair ramps in schools. Things escalated on Monday 8th when it emerged that Young attended a genetics research conference at UCL last year. The annual summit was reportedly a small, “secret” event that had previously featured presentations by white supremacists with “neo-Nazi links”. Young said that he attended the invite-only event to research for a talk he would give later on. UCL has launched an “urgent investigation” into how the conference was able to occur without its knowledge.
Behind the furore caused by Young, the OfS’s board remains largely in-tact. It will take over as the regulator for UK universities in April as part of the Conservative Party’s wider scheme to apply market principles to education. Half of its 14 remaining board members have backgrounds in the private sector. Elizabeth Fagan, OfS board member and managing director of Boots, has been criticised for having “no apparent experience in higher education.” Neither the National Union of Students (NUS) nor the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have seats, and there is only one student representative.