An Unsatisfactory Reply Regarding Dr Jordan Peterson’s Visiting Fellowship

Paramvir Singh Khera 22 March 2019
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore

I have received a reply from the University’s Office of External Affairs to my letter about Dr Jordan Peterson’s visiting fellowship (which you can read here: Jordan Peterson’s Visiting Fellowship: A Letter to the Faculty of Divinity). Here is the University’s reply in full:

Dear Mr Khera
We acknowledge receipt of your email and your concerns have been noted.
Please note, that due to GDPR regulations we are unable to discuss details pertaining to any form of contractual agreement with individuals.
Kind regards,
Office of External Affairs| University of Cambridge

Well, I am glad that the university is at least committed to transparency and good communications with the student body if nothing else. I would, however, like to add a few comments here about the situation at large. Though there is much to say I will keep my thoughts short to reflect the non-committal and uninterested style of the university’s response.

It is interesting that the Guardian and other newspapers managed to get some sort of a statement from the university. In the Guardian article a university spokesperson is quoted as saying: “[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot.” Even fellow students that think the content of my letter was “problematic” or downright wrong (as more than a few have told me they do), ought to be concerned that the University could respond so apathetically to a student’s impassioned plea for an explanation and not even offer to regurgitate a meaningless stock response like the one above. I hope that the university would not break GDPR regulations for the Guardian but refuse to do it for students; the alternative is that the Office of External Affairs were indeed at liberty to tell me a little bit more than they did.

It is also incredibly odd that the university failed to notify Dr Peterson before making a public statement, a failure of basic manners which reflects poorly on the university and for which I believe it ought to apologise.

The most important and troubling aspect of the wider situation to me is not CUSU’s statement, which I never expected to agree with, but that the University have not been able to communicate well enough to distance themselves from it. Mature responses to my letter and lines of argument from fellow students have centred around Peterson being an unfit academic in the field of theology, an argument which I can sympathise with. However, this argument cannot explain why the offer was made and then rescinded, unless the University admits it made a mistake in the first place and that its vetting procedures for academic fitness are flawed.

In fact, from what little we have been told, it actually seems that the University may have made the decision to rescind the offer along similar lines of argument to those that CUSU employs. For anybody that sees the logical cracks in that argument, and I hope that this is the majority, it should be quite troubling that the University seems unable to give us a clear and separate reason for their change of heart: I for one am not content with the university brushing this issue under the GDPR regulations carpet.