Professors at two top universities accused of sharing Russian propaganda

11 March 2022, 11:26 | Updated: 14 March 2022, 09:58

Leeds and Edinburgh Universities
Leeds and Edinburgh Universities. Picture: Alamy
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

Academics at two leading universities have been accused of "effectively helping the Russian war effort" after sharing pro-Kremlin propaganda on social media.

Leading campaign group the Community Security Trust said questions should be asked about the standard of teaching at the Universities of Edinburgh and Leeds after LBC revealed details about the professors' behaviour on social media.

Tim Hayward, professor of environmental political theory at the University of Edinburgh retweeted a Russian representative to the United Nations describing the horrific attacks on that maternity hospital in Mariupol as "fake news".

He then wrote: "As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so."

He’s also pushed articles to his followers, which number nearly 20,000, that the US wants the war in Ukraine "to continue", and criticised the West for failing to consider "Russia's legitimate interests".

Meanwhile, Professor Ray Bush, from the University of Leeds, suggested yesterday on social media that United States denials that they had chemical warfare installations in Ukraine should not be believed.

He wrote: “US Russia comment that Washington has chemical warfare installations in Ukraine is a lie – who would we believe about that?This accusation from Russia in the first place is known to be false flag operation to justify a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine.

Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust, told LBC: “We have seen over the years that Russia uses its propaganda as part of its war effort to cover-up what it is doing, and when British academics amplify and endorse that completely false propaganda, whether they mean to or not, effectively they are helping the Russian war effort and they are giving that message to directly to their students.“

Academics have to be free to think, and to write, and to speak about whatever they want but the concern should be where they are getting their information and how they are evaluating it.

And is this is how they do their academic work – if everything they teach is based on conspiracy theories and lies from a dictatorship that is pursuing a war in the way that these tweets have done.

“What does that say about what they are teaching in their universities and the standards that their universities are enforcing?”

LBC has approached the University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds. But both declined to say whether they would be taking action against Professor Hayward and Professor Bush respectively.

A spokeswoman for the University of Edinburgh said Professor Hayward was tweeting in a "personal capacity".

She added: “The University of Edinburgh has publicly stated that we support the Universities UK statement on Ukraine. We do not comment on individual members of our staff or their employment."

Meanwhile, the University of Leeds told LBC that Professor Bush had retired. But he is still listed on their website, with an official Leeds University email address. They declined to comment on his tweets.

When LBC asked Mr Hayward about his recent activity on Twitter he told us that: “ (his) tweets reflect a concern that there is a distinct danger of escalation when propaganda and disinformation encourage either over-confidence or exaggerated fears on either side. In the West we are aware of having been misled into supporting some disastrous foreign policy these past twenty years, so I think we should be trying to apply the lessons learned and not pretend that everything we the public hear on ‘our’ side is necessarily the unvarnished truth. “

In response to LBC’s story, a Government spokesperson said: "These reports are deeply disturbing. Universities, as independent and autonomous organisations, should decide whether to investigate, however these views are clearly deeply offensive and completely lacking in academic integrity."

LBC understands the Department for Education expects universities to carry out due diligence "to consider reputational, ethical and security risks" of employing any academic.

Universities subject to same rules as any business and will be bound by new rules restricting foreign investment.

Meanwhile, it is also understood Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has asked his department "to rapidly review Russian beneficiaries - such as academic institutions and firms - of UK science, research, technology, and innovation funding".