Campus outcry as teacher stands for German far-right party in European elections

Staff and students protested law lecturer Gunnar Beck’s AfD candidacy
Education Correspondent

Students and academics at a London university staged a protest yesterday against a law lecturer standing for the Germany far-right party Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) in the European elections.

Members of the law faculty at Soas University of London have said they are “appalled” that their colleague Gunnar Beck has chosen to run for the party in next week’s elections. The afternoon protest called for Dr Beck to be dismissed and for the university to explain its role “in facilitating his far-right politics”. 

Members of the School of Law said: “We would like to express our vehement opposition to this party and its policies, and distance ourselves entirely from those who advocate and support them.” AfD members have a long history of inflammatory comments regarding the actions of the Nazis and just this week the party took aim at activist Greta Thunberg in efforts to deny climate change.

The Soas staff added: “We are speaking out because we recognise the importance of not being complicit in the normalisation of reactionary, right-wing populism.” A statement from Soas students’ union questioned why the academic wanted to teach students at the university “who hold and support so many of the identities he wants to see diminished”.

Paul Cottrell, acting general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “The AfD is an extreme right-wing, racist, anti-immigration party that has no place on UK campuses. We are shocked that a member of academic staff from Soas could be involved with a party like this which stands for policies utterly incompatible with the values of diversity, tolerance and internationalism at the very heart of Soas as an institution.”

 A spokesperson for Soas said: “We find the policies of the AfD on a range of matters to be abhorrent. They conflict with the fundamental values we hold as an institution. We recognise the anxiety caused to staff and students as a result of this situation.”

But it added: “As an academic institution, we are committed to the rights of academic freedom of speech within the law, despite the painful choices to which it gives rise. We encourage members of our community to tackle these issues through robust debate.”

Dr Beck told The Independent that he supports the AfD because “there is no other eurosceptic conservative party in Germany,” adding that it is not a “not a Nazi nor a fascist party.”

He added that he supported freedom of speech and would defend anyone rights to it, but he said the allegations that he was a fascist, Islamophobe, or white supremacist were “grotesque”. “I have received messages of support from within Soas – both from students and colleagues – who disagree with the line taken by the students’ union,” Dr Beck added.