Students at the university - the only one in Europe to specialise in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East - were slammed as “snowflakes” after the Mail on Sunday reported that they had suggested lessons should focus on Asian and African philosophers.
But pro-director of the university, Dr Deborah Johnston, defended the proposal, saying: “One of the great strengths of SOAS is that we have always looked at world issues from the perspective of the regions we study - Asia, Africa & Middle East.
“Informed and critical debate and discussion about the curriculum we teach is a healthy and proper part of the academic enterprise.”
The controversy broke out after students proposed that the “majority of philosophers” taught on courses should be African or Asian.
A list of academic demands from students includes these requests: “To make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or it’s diaspora.
“SOAS’s focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora).
“If white philosophers are required, then to teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called “Enlightenment” philosophers wrote within.”
The proposals were put forward as part of a campaign at SOAS to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism” at the university.
Despite the university’s focus on African and Asian studies, students were accused of out of control political correctness for wanting to move away from the teachings of white philosophers.
“You can’t rule out a whole area of intellectual endeavour without having investigated it and clearly they haven’t investigated what they mean by white philosophy,” philosopher Sir Roger Scruton told the Mail on Sunday.
“If they think there is a colonial context from which Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason arose, I would like to hear it.”
Dr Erica Hunter, head of the religions and philosophies department at SOAS university, also criticised the students’ proposal, calling it “rather ridiculous”.
“I would firmly resist dropping philosophers or historians just because it was fashionable,” she told the Telegraph.
But the union has had support from students within and outside the university, with many questioning why an institution dedicated to studying the East should focus on Western philosophy:
King’s College London’s People of Colour Association has also come out in solidarity with the union, alongside the Decolonising Our Minds Society, a London-based movement with more than 11,000 followers on Facebook.