SOAS Law School horrified as colleague bids to represent far-right party in European Parliament

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By CJ McKinney on

Law profs at left-leaning uni ‘appalled’ at fellow academic and Alternative für Deutschland candidate Gunnar Beck

Dr Gunnar Beck

Law professors at London’s SOAS have lashed out at one of their colleagues over his candidacy for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party in Germany.

Staff at SOAS law school are “appalled” at the decision of Dr Gunnar Beck, an EU law expert, to stand for the AfD in the European elections.

The AfD was set up in 2013 to campaign against the euro but has since embraced an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant message. It is now the third largest party in the German federal parliament.

Dr Beck, 53, has worked with the pro-Brexit campaign group Lawyers for Britain and the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange. He practices as a lawyer in Germany and the UK, where he is a door tenant at 1 Essex Court, Chambers of Tony Baldry. Beck has previously worked for Herbert Smith (now Herbert Smith Freehills) as an employed barrister and is the author of a book on the EU Court of Justice. At SOAS, where his title is Reader in Law, Beck teaches an introduction to EU law module as well as on the master’s course.

Traditionally associated with left-wing politics, SOAS has 31 academic staff at its law school. Of those, 23 signed a statement attacking Dr Beck — including the head of the law school, Professor Carol Tan.

The academics said that they are “deeply dismayed that one of our colleagues, Gunnar Beck, is standing for election to the European Parliament as a candidate for the German party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The AfD is widely recognised as a far-right, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, and reactionary party”.

Citing examples of controversial AfD policies, the statement went on to say:

“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. We are appalled that one of our colleagues has chosen to associate with this party. We are speaking out because we recognise the importance of not being complicit in the normalisation of reactionary, right-wing populism.”

While law professors don’t always make natural politicians, Beck is in with a good shout of taking a seat. He is 10th on the AfD party list, with the party projected to take 11 seats. It won seven seats in the 2014 election.

The SOAS students’ union said that “Though we are forced to respect people’s political freedom, we can call into question why an academic who stands with a party with such hostile views wants to be a part of the SOAS community and teach students who hold and support so many of the identities he wants to see diminished”. SOAS students staged a protest on Friday.

Dr Beck could not be reached for comment, but reportedly told the Independent that he supports the AfD because “there is no other eurosceptic conservative party in Germany”, adding that “I have received messages of support from within SOAS — both from students and colleagues — who disagree with the line taken by the students’ union”.

SOAS condemned the AfD but refused to attack Beck, saying:

“We recognise the anxiety caused to staff and students as a result of this situation. However, 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.”

Law schools have been coming under pressure to cut ties with conservative lecturers as students increasingly see the personal views of staff as an affront to institutional values and a threat to student welfare. In January, the famous legal philosopher John Finnis faced calls to quit his Oxford University role over allegedly homophobic writings.

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