Education Minister warns academia against cancel culture intolerance

The Minister for Higher and Further Education has urged Vice Chancellors, staff and students to defend free speech against “the nonsense of cancel culture”.

In an address to influential think tank Policy Exchange, Michelle Donelan denounced the rise of ideological bullying on university campuses that had resulted in a climate of fear.

Minister Donelan made specific reference to the “deplorable” treatment of former philosophy professor Kathleen Stock by transgender activists at the University of Sussex.


Setting out Government plans under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, Donelan said: “supporting free speech is no longer enough. Free speech is now something that has to be defended.”

Michelle Donelan denounced the rise of ideological bullying

She acknowledged the vital work of universities over previous centuries in shaping society through “open debate”.

“But, sadly”, she reflected, “where once we found critical debate and arguments were won on their merits, today we see an upsurge in physical threats and complete intolerance of opposing ideas.

“We witness examples of professors being harangued and hounded out of their jobs. We see prominent, well-respected, guests no-platformed. We find academics self-censoring themselves out of fear.”

‘Narrow ideology’

The Minister continued: “Progress is no longer considered progress unless it conforms to an increasingly narrow ideology.”

She cautioned against following the approach in “authoritarian countries” where students are taught “what to think rather than how to think”.

And added: “But I worry that if we allow ourselves to drift toward a more narrow definition of free speech, we risk going down that same dark path as those other countries and compromising what makes our universities world class.”

Intolerant cabal

Commenting on the recent treatment of a Sussex university professor, Donelan said: “I find it completely deplorable that, last year, balaclava-clad protestors forced a female academic, Kathleen Stock, to stay off campus under threats of physical violence.”

Do not allow the history books to record your name as part of the small cabal of the intolerant.

She also observed: “In addition, 200 academics reported last year that they were receiving death threats and abuse, simply for expressing views and crucially, that they did not feel supported by their universities.”

The Minister blamed the “threats, intimidation and harassment” on an “intolerant few”, who “have decided that protecting people from offence is more important than advancing human knowledge”.

As she neared the end of her speech, she charged: “Vice Chancellors, university staff, and students: do not be on the wrong side of history. Do not allow the history books to record your name as part of the small cabal of the intolerant.”

Also see:


Academics call on universities to take firm line on free speech

Calls grow for free speech protections in Scots universities’

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