Proposed changes to Cambridge University’s free-speech policy have been branded “authoritarian” by academics.
The university is seeking to alter its existing statement on freedom of speech to call on “staff, students and visitors” to be “respectful” of “differing opinions” and “diverse identities”.
However, more than 100 scholars and senior staff say the proposals could threaten academic freedom and have called on members of the University’s governing body to amend the plans before the new statement is introduced.
Tolerance not respect
Dr Arif Ahmed, who is spearheading the campaign against the changes, described the new policy as “very restricting”, adding: “The problem with requiring ‘respect’ of all opinions and ‘identities’ is that ‘respect’ is vague, subjective and restrictive.”
“David Hume certainly wrote disrespectfully about the Christian religion. Am I being disrespectful to that opinion or identity if I teach or endorse his views? Who gets to decide?”
The Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms (CCF), led by Dr Ahmed, is calling on members of the University’s governing body to vote in favour of changing “respectful” to “tolerant”.
It is also wants the new policy to make it harder “to force university societies to disinvite speakers whose remarks may be controversial” and to restrict ‘no platforming’ of speakers by the university.
Cambridge Professor Ross Anderson told The Telegraph: “If you can discipline people for lack of respect, that undermines the freedom we have had for many centuries”.
He said that the push to change the free speech rules had come from the “Stalinist left among the student union who like to ‘cancel’ people”.
Steven Fry, a graduate of Cambridge, wrote in The Times: “There are many opinions, positions and points of view which I find I do not and cannot respect. That is surely true for all us.”
He continued: “Doubtless we can all hope for respectful attitudes in matters of debate and interpersonal exchange — much as we hope for friendly manners in all circumstances — but to burn respect into statutes and protocols is absurd, or worse. Such an impulse tips over the line into thought control.”