‘Authoritarian’ Cambridge Uni free speech clause amended following landslide vote

Cambridge University’s proposed free speech policy will not tell staff, students and visitors they must respect views they disagree with, after academics voted in favour of amendments.

In its plan to alter the existing statement on freedom of speech, the University said people must be “respectful” of “differing opinions” and “diverse identities”.

However, more than 100 scholars and senior staff quickly objected, saying the “authoritarian” proposals could threaten academic freedom. Their amendment to change the phrase ‘respectful of’ to ‘tolerate’ was voted on by members of the University’s governing body and won “by a landslide”.

‘Robust free speech’

The amendment, put forward by Dr Arif Ahmed, also removed the list of reasons speakers could be banned and instead replaced it with a commitment to allow anyone to speak at the University, so long as they did not break the law, libel or harass anyone.

More than 1,300 academics voted in favour of his amendment, with fewer than 200 voting for the original proposals.

Following the vote, Dr Ahmed said: “I had always thought, and this has confirmed my suspicions, that the vast majority of academics are totally committed to the most robust kind of free speech, and have no time for no platforming or shutting anyone down.”

‘Rigorous debate’

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope, said the vote in favour of the amendment was “an emphatic reaffirmation of free speech”.

He continued: “Freedom of speech is a right that sits at the heart of the University. This statement is a robust defence of that right. The University will always be a place where anyone can express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, and where those views can be robustly challenged.

an emphatic reaffirmation of free speech

“The statement also makes it clear that it is unacceptable to censor, or disinvite, speakers whose views are lawful but may be seen as controversial. Rigorous debate is fundamental to the pursuit of academic excellence and the University of Cambridge will always be a place where freedom of speech is not only protected, but strongly encouraged.”

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