Belfast Telegraph

Academics voice 'concern and regret' at appointment

By Suzanne Breen

Up to 40 academics at Queen's University Belfast have expressed their "deep concern and profound regret" at the appointment of former DUP leader Peter Robinson as an honorary professor.

They spoke out as Mr Robinson delivered his inaugural lecture at the university last night.

The academics said Mr Robinson's branding of homosexuality as "an abomination" and a previous statement about Muslims was at odds with Queen's inclusive ethos.

Academics from the School of History, Anthropology, Politics and Philosophy, as well as the Law Department and Department of Sociology signed an open letter of protest to the university.

Queen's LGBT staff group Prism also wrote to the acting vice-chancellor Professor James McElnay and pro-vice-chancellor Professor Richard English voicing objections.

Mr Robinson was appointed to the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice last month. It is understood that some fellows of the institute itself have signed the letter.

In 2008 while defending his wife's views on gay people, Mr Robinson said: "It wasn't Iris Robinson who determined that homosexuality was an abomination, it was the Almighty."

In 2014 while defending Pastor James McConnell, Mr Robinson said he would trust Muslims to "go down to the shops for me". He later apologised for any offence caused.

In their letter, the academics said: "If Queen's University and the George Mitchell Institute wants to help to create an inclusive, secure and enriched society, then honouring and magnifying the views of someone so opposed to an inclusive society is directly contrary to its goals.

"We ask that the George Mitchell Institute makes a public statement distancing itself from Mr Robinson's repugnant views."

They also demanded to know "how and why this appointment was decided" as QUB should "act with caution and sensitivity to the entire academic community when conferring such honours on controversial figures."

One of the signatories, Dr Joe Morrison, said: "There is nothing in the slightest sectarian about our letter. Our community of scholars and the rest of the UK will look at this appointment of a professorship with incredulity. They won't look at it within a sectarian frame, they'll just see intolerance."

In its letter, Prism said that by "elevating Mr Robinson in this matter, the university is communicating a negative message to its LGBT staff and students and their rights to respect and to study and work in an inclusive affirming environment".

In a statement, Queens University said it was "committed to the promotion of equality and diversity and to creating and sustaining an environment that values and celebrates the diversity of its staff and student body".

It said that decisions on the conferment of honorary titles were made by the university's honorary titles group. Professor English was willing to meet those who had raised concerns about honorary appointments, it added.

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