A controversial professor who came under fire for “undermining” anti-Semitism allegations within the Labour Party and allegedly engaged with pro-Assad and 9/11 conspiracy theories has left the University of Sheffield.
The University today confirmed the departure of Piers Robinson, a senior lecturer in propaganda at the institution’s prestigious Journalism department.
Robinson, who was the Chair of Politics, Society and Political Communication at the University, was heavily criticised for his views by academics and students who have spoken to Forge Press.
His exit comes shortly after Forge Press’ investigation into his online behaviour in April, however Robinson insists he received no criticism or pressure to leave from the University of Sheffield.
Exit follows probe into professor’s online behaviour
Forge Press’ investigation found that Robinson was sharing posts on his own social media accounts, and signed a petition in defence of suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson, which claimed that anti-Semitism allegations in Labour were “being used as a weapon to silence those who speak out against injustice”.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) hit out at his behaviour, accusing him of “undermining the fight against anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party, and called for the University to take action.
Confirming his exit, Robinson said: “Following my decision to leave the University I will now be focusing full-time on researching and writing about propaganda including, in particular, critical analysis of propaganda and deception during the war in Syria and the broader 9/11 global ‘war on terror’.”
Richard Dawidek, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, said: “I’m pleased to hear that having left the university, Robinson will no longer be able to use the status afforded by the title of professor at a Russell Group university to legitimise his writings promoting the actions of a tyrant.”
“A couple of times I’ve bumped into Piers and I just feel a bit uneasy with it to know that this person is supporting a [President] who killed and displaced thousands of Syrians.”
A Syrian student, speaking anonymously to HuffPost UK and Forge Press, said he was “relieved” that Robinson was out but felt let down by senior managers for their failure to take action.
“I feel relieved that he’s not associated with the university where I study and where I [will] graduate from,” the student said.
But, he added: “[The university should be] listening to the students and making sure those they hire are of credible career because they’re going to influence students so they should look into what their students say and the history of who they are hiring.”
Senior lectureship was the tip of the iceberg
A previous investigation by the Huffington Post revealed that Robinson was casting doubt on mainstream narratives around 9/11, the Iraq War and the Syrian War in his lectures to students – a state of affairs that the University defended under the principles of ‘academic freedom’.
But Robinson’s lectureship at the University – in a Journalism department ranked among the best in the country – was only the tip of the iceberg of a network of posts from Robinson and his supporters on Twitter and Facebook, and on fringe websites.
Forge Press revealed a series of shared posts on Robinson’s social media accounts questioning the validity of widespread claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
One post shared by senior academic Robinson decried such claims as “a smear campaign” and another, an article by left-leaning website The Canary, reduced the allegations to a project of the “establishment”.
UJS, the body representing Britain’s 8,500 Jewish students, said it expects better from university staff than to “engag[e] in denial of anti-Semitism” on social media with his senior role at the University attached.
Robinson, also the co-director of the Organisation for Propaganda Studies, denied the accusations. He said: “I do not believe there is no anti-semitism in the Labour Party. I do believe that the problem has been exaggerated for political purposes.”
It followed previous criticism over Robinson regularly appearing on Kremlin-backed TV channel Russia Today to challenge mainstream narratives around humanitarian suffering and events in the Syrian War, with his lectureship at Sheffield on public display, according to HuffPost UK.
As convenor of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, Robinson works with a small group of left-wing academics to promote the work of a fringe blogging group accused of spreading false information about the Syrian civil war.
The Syrian student added: “I don’t really feel unsafe being a Syrian student but I am disappointed and uneasy, that’s what I feel, about it all.
“A couple of times I’ve bumped into him [Piers]… and I just feel a bit uneasy with it to know that this person is supporting a [President] who killed and displaced thousands of Syrians.”
Students say the University should have intervened
Piers’ group defend their activities as ‘truth-seeking’, but others expressed discomfort at Robinson’s place at the institution – especially after he was accused of being a ‘9/11 Truther’ for giving a shining review of a book that argues al-Qaeda did not hijack planes in the Twin Towers attacks.
PhD student Mr Dawidek asked: “What does it say about Sheffield’s standards when articles shilling for the Assad regime, that are littered with inaccuracies, slander and propaganda, have the University name attached?
“I’m worried about the opinion my academic work would be held in if it was associated with the same institution that had its name to pro-Assad lies.”
This was echoed by the Syrian student that spoke to Forge Press. He highlighted the credibility that the label ‘professor’ at a Russell Group institution lends to Robinson’s controversial work.
“For anything to be credible you really have to work hard to get the right, accurate information, I know because I’m an academic myself studying a PhD at the University of Sheffield,” he added.
“A lot of people believe this because it’s coming out of a professor at a leading institution, so the name [professor] alone would give any article written by these people [Piers Robinson and others] credibility.
“If I was at the University of Sheffield studying a masters in Journalism and he started lecturing me I would simply ask for my money back and leave, this is not good enough.”
Help is available for anyone affected by the issues raised in this article. The Student Advice Centre based at Sheffield Students’ Union is open 10am-5pm on weekdays. SAMHS, the university’s gateway for all mental health support, can be reached here. If you would like to speak to someone before then, Samaritans is a free support service available 24 hours a day by calling 116 123 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.