On signing up to do politics at Glasgow University in 1989 I admit I should have checked out the syllabus first, but those were different times. Why do you want to do this course? asked the tutor‎ of our first gathering on political theory. Various contemporaries muttered about Marx, and the tutor nodded, adjusting his stupid little woollen hat that marked him out as a Marxist, or a fan of The Wonder Stuff, a band favoured by people with a dog on a piece of string. He got to me near the end. I couldn’t very well say that I liked the BBC’s On the Record weekend show on politics, and reading parliamentary sketches in newspapers, and documentaries about Churchill. I said I was there to learn about all that other non-Marxist stuff too. Perhaps a bit of Burke. Hmmmm, I don’t think we’ve got any of that on this course, he declared.

Too right we hadn’t. On that part of the course it all seemed to be Marx in store, as far as I can recall. Nigerian Marx. Full Marx. Marx and Spencer, consumerist narratives for the politics of a post-capitalist society. And so on, with a bit of British electoral analysis thrown in to prevent the non-Marxists leaving the course.

And then we got to November and there was a rather major development. The Berlin Wall came down. That winter, communism fell and socialism collapsed.

This was big news. We students were excited to be living through history. They can’t go on teaching this Marx stuff as though nothing just happened? As though history is progressing inevitably towards a Marxist future and the Soviet Union triumphing because it has eliminated all that wasteful profit and competition and their washing machines and sodastream machines will be better than ours by 2015. Oh yes they could go on teaching it. On it went in a parallel politics department universe.

I got out. Mercifully for me, the Scottish system is very civilised. You sign up for a range of courses and then you narrow it down once you discover what works in terms of interest and exam results. I fled to do as many history courses as possible.

The reason I mention all this is that there is a tremendous row raging about academic freedom, and concerns about bias in universities are nothing new. Cultural Marxism began its long march there through the institutions decades ago and has quite a grip, to the extent that its assumptions seem to be regarded as the new centre of gravity. When the Foreign Office is objecting to the term “pregnant women” on the basis that it offends transgender people (women give birth, face it) it should be clear that the project to demolish conventional distinctions – biological differences between men and women, for example – is well advanced.

Anyway, I digress. A letter sent by Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris to university vice-chancellors, in which he asked for a list of academics teaching European affairs, has provoked outrage.

The letter is odd. Chris Heaton-Harris is a methodical man. His researcher could have used the internet to look all this up and list the courses.‎ The suspicion is that the letter was designed to send a sinister message: we’re watching you.

‎The context is this. There is deep concern and frustration on the pro-Brexit‎ side, intermingled with anti-Corbynite feeling that there seem in British universities to be about five Tories employed, and they are all close to retirement. The young have minds of their own, but if at university they never hear alternatives – Brexit might be ok, the EU’s quite new and a bit crap, socialism (as opposed to social democracy) is one of mankind’s worst ever ideas and always fails – then they will emerge with strange expectations and narrow horizons.

Meanwhile, society seems to be redividing along new class lines, with the university educated moving further left and holding forth with views about Brexit voters (fools, racists or dupes) that are deeply troubling. Tory support is outside the major cities, in places worried about cultural and economic change.

This helps explain that the letter from Heaton-Harris is not a manifestation of strength born of arbitrary authority and ruthless use of power. It’s at root an expression of anxiety and weakness. A new generation is coming through, schooled by angry cosmopolitans furious about leaving the EU, and the Brexit side of the argument is one side of an ever more bitter culture war that might rage for decades. No-one sane enjoys being hated.

And that is my main problem with the letter – which has lit up social media, with people who should know better pretending this is the Nazis. With trust in such short supply, it should have been a request for dialogue and discussion.

The letter that should be sent by sensible Brexit MPs, rather than headbangers, would ask vice-chancellors if they mind suggesting the best person in their institution to help organise a public conversation on campus about Brexit and other themes. Is there a large venue? Might one of the societies for students help organise? Make an effort to get people – MPs, academics, students, journalists – out of their entrenched positions. Listen to concerns. Discuss. And for goodness sake get beyond those on the extreme wings on both sides, either shouting about stopping Brexit or presenting it as utopia with no risks. Talk, listen, engage.

It could catch on…