White Wallopers Rule the Campus

When I studied at Glasgow University, more than a few of my fellow undergrads used to giggle about what they called the “darkie’s walloper”. Apparently, some extraordinarily large specimen of an African male’s genitalia was on display in the Hunterian Museum. I cannot say whether this was just a Gilmorehill myth because I never felt moved to check it out. Nor, it shames me to admit, did I call out any of my pals for their racist banter. Casual racism was rampant on our sylvan campus in the bohemian West End, as was homophobia. In the early 1980s the GUU was the only students’ union in the whole of the UK that banned the Gay Society from holding meetings on its premises. I campaigned against that when I edited the student rag and was threatened with a “guid hammering” for doing so. Mercifully, the situation has improved a lot since then. But not entirely, it would seem.

In February a report came out showing that half of all ethnic minority students at my alma mater had been harassed in the course of their studies. A quarter said they felt the institution had a serious problem with racism. The survey also found a lack of confidence that such incidents would be treated seriously, combined with a fear of reprisals from fellow students and staff. Not surprisingly, Glasgow University’s principal and vice-chancellor issued a public apology for all of this and gave an assurance that he and his colleagues would address the problem. Professor Anton Muscatelli needed to engage in a rapid damage limitation exercise, not least because he’s an economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon, herself a Glasgow graduate.

Due to Covid-19 emptying campuses across the planet, there hasn’t been a chance for anyone to try to alter significantly how students of different backgrounds physically interact at Glasgow University or anywhere else. Nevertheless, clearly anxious to avoid further adverse media coverage, Prof Muscatelli has made sure of some swift, headline-grabbing responses. The problem is that seems to be all he’s managed to achieve so far.

Glasgow University’s colonial museum now has a ‘curator of discomfort’

Doubtless in anticipation of its embarrassing racism report card, Glasgow University announced the the appointment of a ‘curator of discomfort’ to address how the Hunterian’s collections have helped perpetuate the legacy of ‘white supremacy’. Zandra Yeaman came on secondment from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights. I’m not sure if this lady will have to arrange the removal of the ‘darkie’s walloper’ (if such an exhibit ever existed) but she will be spared the ordeal of dealing with four severed Maori heads. Those were repatriated to New Zealand with full tribal honours back in 2009. A development which might have had Sir William Hunter birling in his grave: in his will, this eighteenth century anatomist and physician made a massive bequest of substantial and varied collections “most conducive to the improvement of the students of the said University of Glasgow.” Some of the items he acquired came from Captain Cook’s voyages to the South Seas.

The museum still named after him is far from the only legacy of white supremacy at Glasgow University. Something acknowledged in August 2019 when its bosses garnered a lot of publicity about becoming the first university in Britain to atone for historical links to the transatlantic slave trade. Commenting on its much trumpeted Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report, one of the co-authors Professor Simon Newman commented:

The University of Glasgow is an institution that grew in a city tied to the trade in tobacco, sugar and cotton, all of which were initially produced by enslaved Africans. Launching an in-depth investigation to look at how the University might have benefited from the profits of racial slavery was, in my opinion, a brave decision. But it is a decision rooted in the core values of an educational institution dedicated to the pursuit of truth and social justice.

An institution dedicated to truth and social justice? You wouldn’t know Prof Newman was on the university’s payroll, would you? But he’s clearly been wasted in the history department. He should have been heading up the corporate communications unit. 

Putting fellow humans in leg irons gave many Scots a princely education

Just so you know, Glasgow University’s definition of ‘reparative justice’ is pledging to raise £20m to create a joint research centre with the University of the West Indies – chiefly from future grants and gifts. Nothing much seems to be coming out of its existing coffers, which contain ample reserves and assets. In other words, pure marketing guff from a massively-endowed institution that has itself admitted it might have benefited financially from Scottish slave traders to the tune of up to £200m in today’s money. Putting thousands of fellow human beings in leg irons gave a lot of Scots a princely education.

When the Covid restrictions lift, you won’t find many students from the West Indies wandering around the leafy West End of Glasgow. A programme of scholarships has been launched to allow a few young folk of Afro-Caribbean descent to study at the University, but no one can seriously expect this to alter the composition of its student body to any noticeable extent.

Founding but not itself financing a research centre was easy, symbolic stuff, the final ceremony of which neatly coincided with the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. A perfect day for Prof Muscatelli to proclaim: “Talking about any institution’s or country’s historical links to slavery can be a difficult conversation, but we felt it was a necessary one for our university to have.”

In truth, he and his assorted minions have done nothing brave or difficult up to now. They have only just started to tackle a few of the many hard issues they need to confront in this regard. Yet already they’re beginning to stir up serious resentment. An initiative across the UK university sector called ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ is starting to create frictions at Glasgow. Particularly in the School of Social & Political Sciences, where some faculty members consider themselves most eminently qualified to debunk the concept. Many of them are based in the Adam Smith Building, named after the university’s most celebrated alumnus, who not only pioneered laissez-faire economics but spoke out against the futility of slavery (which was nice of him). 

A virtual symposium was arranged on Zoom a few weeks ago to try to defuse the mounting tensions between staff and students based in that breeze block eyesore. After ploughing the same narrow research furrows for years, if not decades, many academics are deeply reluctant to adapt their act – especially when funds are being diverted from their courses into a whole range of PR-driven initiatives, such as the appointment of a Professor of Decolonisation. To some, this drive to ‘decolonise’ is a highly suspect political agenda that wouldn’t stand up to honest and open, intellectual scrutiny. Others suspect it is a clever cost-cutting ruse by uni bosses to drive ageing academics into retirement.

Decolonising the curriculum might be easier with black or brown academics

A properly informed and balanced discussion about this complex topic might be possible if more permanent academic posts at Glasgow University were held by people with black or brown skin. The aforementioned study found ethnic minority staff are between two and three times more likely to be employed on fixed term contracts. As well as being in the most precarious positions, non-whites currently have no representation whatsoever on any of the three major decision-making bodies of the University – senior management group, court and senate.

Perhaps surprisingly, the clamour to decolonise the curriculum isn’t being led by overseas students but predominantly by Scottish undergraduates who want the content of their courses to reflect the world in which they they have grown up in the digital age. Internationalisation at Glasgow, as in many other UK universities, has largely involved hoovering up highly conformist Chinese applicants, who tend to regard their vast homeland not as a former colony but well on its way to becoming the world’s predominant superpower. That said, the large Asian influx is a welcome change from when I was at Glasgow Uni. Studying there back in the 1980s you were regarded as coming from the Far East if you were from Edinburgh or, in my case, the Middle East because I went to a school in West Lothian. 

I am happy to report that the atmosphere on the campus is far more cosmopolitan today but, even in recent times whenever I have wandered up University Avenue (which was fairly frequently before the pandemic), it never felt like somewhere people from all parts of the globe had gathered to share their diverse cultural perspectives.

Creating such a genuinely global university, and offering real reparations for white supremacy and slavery, would involve truly tough decisions I suspect Glasgow University’s high head-yins will slide away from making – especially if it might make their own lives less comfortable. So they’ll carry on issuing ultra-PC pronouncements and pursuing the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ agenda until the seventh or eighth sub-committee set up to explore the issue forgets what they were meant to be tackling in the first place. Meanwhile, thousands of students will continue to lose out on the comprehensive, cosmopolitan education they deserve in today’s increasingly integrated world.

Having done my first degree at Glasgow University (and at a Canadian university that was leagues above it), and having worked for almost two decades as a media academic in various ‘new universities’ across these islands, I can tell you our highest seats of learning have long been a cosy racket. Ingrained racism among white wallopers (sometimes on whopping salaries) is just one of many campus scandals that needs to be addressed – rapidly.

Jaggy.blog is keen to subject Scotland’s higher education sector to proper journalistic scrutiny so, if you’re a whistleblower or just got a wee tip-off, please email jaggyblogger@aol.com Your anonymity is guaranteed.

19 thoughts on “White Wallopers Rule the Campus

  1. Last time I looked, Scottish students were themselves an ethnic minority in most of Scotland’s ‘elite’ universities, in which the emphasis for many years has been on packing in higher fee students from outside Scotland, as well as a focus on the more privileged from private schools. Even Audit Scotland argued more places were needed for Scottish students, who were effectively being excluded.

    The position with academic staff is arguably even worse; in many departments in Scotland’s elite universities barely 10% of academic staff today are Scottish, and there are some departments with no Scottish academics in them. This is what happens when a country fails to educate its own people, especially to PhD level, and/or advertises all its top positions primarily outside the host nation. This in turn explains why hardly any of Scotland’s 19 universities are today run by Scots.

    Should we be surprised, given Scotland’s ‘status’? Independence is decolonisation, after all, according to the UN; not that political science professors in Scotland’s universities appear to be aware. A ‘Professor of Decolonisation’ would therefore seem a usual initiative, though primarily to enable the Scots to learn about our own colonial oppression, which continues to this day. Indeed, I would like to apply!

    https://yoursforscotlandcom.wordpress.com/2021/05/01/is-scottish-independence-decolonisation/

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    1. Not saying your claim that Scotland fails to educate its own people is false, but your stats don’t give the full picture that would enable me to deduce that it is true. You have to state the percentages of Scottish academics in English universities, also probably American and Canadian. If many Scottish academics choose to work elsewhere in the world, the problem is a different one to what you claim.

      Incidentally, when Scotland was internationally recognised as having the best educational system in the world, was Scotland more of a colony, or less?

      I was the first in my family’s history to go to university, mostly because the oppressive, colonialist regime in sway at the time provided me (and every other academically gifted Scot) with a free grant. Perhaps our devolved Scottish Government could fix the problem of the excluded Scots students by paying their fees and living costs, thus allowing them to compete for places on an equal financial footing with foreign students. Maybe even use the tax varying powers to fund this laudable aim.

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      1. My interest is mainly Scottish universities, which appear not to seek to employ never mind nurture many Scottish academics, like this example:

        https://www.strath.ac.uk/engineering/navalarchitectureoceanmarineengineering/ourstaff/

        or this:

        https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/economics-finance/people/

        and this:

        https://www.business-school.ed.ac.uk/subject-group/accounting-and-finance

        If you look through all 19 Scottish universities’ departments you find a broadly similar picture, though perhaps more emphasised in the ‘elites’.

        I was a ‘visiting’ professor in Norway, where the opposite seems to be the case, i.e. probably 90%+ of academics there are Norwegian, and more or less all universities there are led and run by Norwegians, as in this example: https://www.himolde.no/english/people/hs/

        This rather confirms the argument that colonial people and nations remain underdeveloped.

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    2. Not every university included and not every department, so no, not systematic enough – and not peer reviewed either. But as I said previously, it’s OK.

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      1. If you were an academic you would know that surveys seldom include an entire ‘population’. Statistically my sample is rather large and therefore it is significant.

        Don’t you have any meaningful comment to make? What is your specific interest anyhow? Do you work in the sector? If you do, perhaps you have your own data or information which can justify your skepticism?

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  2. American slavery grievance, and the Procrustean application of its template to modern Scotland, which doesn’t fit it…really is starting to cause serious racial divisions. As it was meant to. Divide and conquer.

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  3. The people who were put in leg irons are long dead. Just like the people who put them in leg irons.

    Given that slavery was abolished in 1807, and that a generation is usually reckoned at 30 years (Indy Ref 2 demanders please note), the slaves and slavers lie 6 generations or so in the past. I have absolutely no idea what my ancestors were doing 6 generations ago, but as powerless, penniless Scots, I would wager they were being bilked and oppressed big time. But I’m not going to demand compensation for myself. That would be ludicrous.

    Today, in Glasgow, in Scotland, in the UK, and all across Europe, there are lots of people who most objective observers would regard as effectually slaves. They work under duress at menial tasks in industries such as food processing, building site labouring, agriculture, and domestic service. Many of the women work in the sex trade under the threat of violent coercion. Long hours, no rights, board and lodging only, no health and safety, holidays, sick pay. Some of them end up dead. The only thing distinguishing some of them from the slaves of the early 19th century is the lack of leg irons.

    There are a lot of bad things that are occurring now, that are adversely affecting people now, and that could be mitigated now. There are badly wronged victims who could be released from their bondage and compensated now. But perhaps it will be easier to deal with this in around 200 year’s time.

    Every time I read about how exercised somebody is about the injustices of 2 centuries ago, I think that there goes somebody who has compared the costs and difficulties of virtue signalling about the past against those incurred by taking concrete action in the present and chosen the easy option.

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    1. I hear you and will do as much as I can in future blogs to spotlight such social injustices here and now. But we can focus on the legacies of historical, racial injustices at the same time. You of all people should know how it is possible to be bi focused, Bi Focal Hero!

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    2. “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.” – Charles Bukowski. Beyond of hearing about BLACK slavery. How about BLACK ON WHITE slavery as well, i.e. the Barbary Slave Trade?

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  4. A lurid detail to start your article with, and also a true one. It was in a jar in an un-signposted and little-known room of the university (except to medical students), the anatomy museum, along with other specimens. I found the stillborn/aborted foetuses particularly upsetting. There was one poor thing with two spines.

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