Strathclyde reacts to Andrew Neil tweet slamming the University

Lead Image Credit: Brett Jordan via Pexels

By Daniella Theis

Members of the wider Strathclyde community took to social media recently to respond to a tweet slamming the University.

The tweet causing the social media uproar was posted by journalist Andrew Neil after Strathclyde Professor Tanja Bueltmann responded to one of his other tweets regarding MP Claudia Webbe. After Neil referred to Webbe as a Labour MP, Professor Bueltmann replied that this was not the case.

Claudia Webbe is the Independent MP for Leicester East. She was previously elected as a Labour MP in December 2019 but has since had the whip removed. According to the UK Parliament’s official page, having the whip removed “means that the Member is effectively expelled from their party (but keeps their seat) and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored.”

Replying to Professor Bueltmann, Neil said: “Well, she was elected as a Labour MP and her website still bills her as a Labour MP, as do other digital signatures. 

“You’d expect a professor like yourself, even if it’s only at Strathclyde Uni, to have a greater reverence for facts. But that’s modern academia for you.”

Neil’s tweet soon went viral, and many members of the Strathclyde community joined in on the discussion; many criticising Neil’s words.

We spoke with some of the people from Strathclyde’s community, who tweeted about the incident, more closely:

Strathclyde UCU (@StrathclydeUCU)

The Strathclyde University and College Union (UCU) Twitter account has frequently tweeted about Neil’s comments ever since the original tweet appeared on Sunday.

Speaking with the Strathclyde Telegraph, a spokesperson for UCU Strathclyde said: “I was surprised that he attempted to correct Professor Bueltmann over a statement of fact when he – as a fairly veteran journalist – ought to be up to speed on things such as that.”

They added: “What is interesting is that Andy chose to ridicule and belittle a female professor in that way.  I am sure he would not have done so to one of the many male professors we have here at Strathclyde. The honourable thing to do would be for Andy to apologise to Professor Bueltmann. 

“Whilst Andy has made patronising, snobby and condescending remarks about the University and our colleague we won’t be giving it too much thought. Instead, we will be concentrating on supporting the students of Strathclyde who have shown immeasurable resilience, intelligence and integrity over the past 13 months.”

Twitter user and University Maths teacher @ncdominie shared a picture of Professor John Anderson – the man who is known for laying the foundations for what the University of Strathclyde – taken from Strathclyde Archives. According to @ncdominie, the image shows Anderson “with the cannon he designed, failed to get the British army to adopt, and eventually sent to the revolutionary government in France — very shortly before the UK ended up at war with France.”

Andrew Fleming (@AndyDeLosPerros)
– MLitt Digital Journalism student at the University of Strathclyde

MLitt Digital Journalism student Andrew Fleming tweeted his opinion about Neil’s comment. In his tweet, he said: “Knocking other unis is a far cry from what we’re taught on the MSc Digital Journalism course at Strathclyde, amongst acknowledging and being critical of entitlement. We’re also taught to be impersonal as journalists, might wanna give it a go when losing a Twitter argument.”

I saw a lot of people responding to Andrew Neil’s tweet,” Fleming explained when speaking with the Strathclyde Telegraph. He added: “Some were responding with things like ‘it’s just a friendly rivalry between universities,’ which I could understand, if not that Neil’s Tweet was incredibly insulting to Professor Tanja Bueltmann, who works at Strathclyde. It was completely irrelevant and condescending. 

“I think Neil should apologise to Prof. Bueltmann. His comments concerning modern academia are also extremely ignorant, with the irony being that Neil called for greater reverence of facts when he was in fact wrong. It’s no wonder students and faculty alike are now defending their world-class University and doing so without putting down another.”

Ashley Mclean (@ashleymclean96)
– MSc Public Policy student at the University of Strathclyde

MSc Public Policy Ashley Mclean shared her dismay towards the implications of the tweet; hinting at the underlying issues of elitism within higher education in Scotland. In her tweet, she said: “Might use the opportunity of my dissertation for my MSc at @UniStrathclyde to write 10k words on why elitism is one of the ugliest stains on higher education in Scotland.”

“The perception we have of the importance of prestige in Scottish Universities is routed in classism and elitism,” McLean explained when speaking with the Strathclyde Telegraph.

She added: “Getting into university is hard. Particularly given the narrative that high school students are fed presently that the only route to success is via an undergraduate degree. This leads to huge numbers of applications per university and makes it more competitive to be admitted. 

“Students from more disadvantaged backgrounds work extremely hard to get into potentially ‘lower ranking’ universities, whilst having drastically less financial and academic support and less opportunity to take part in the extracurriculars that get you noticed by admissions. 

“After all this hard work, fighting an uphill battle, they are hit in the face with ‘Oh yeah, well done on that however your University isn’t as good as mine’, particularly in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow with several institutions.

It’s a vile, counter-productive discourse, and comments like Andrew Neil’s only feed this toxic, entitled narrative. I do think Andrew Neil should apologise out of principle. However, it’ll be an empty, performative apology at best.”

Fraser Stewart (@fraserjfstewart) – who is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde – also shared his views on the implications of Neil’s tweet

The University of Strathclyde was contacted for comment, but has declined official comment on the incident and Andrew Neil’s tweet towards one of its staff members at this time.