Office for Students defends free speech in no-platforming row

The universities watchdog has restated its commitment to free speech in the wake of a no-platforming row at the University of Oxford.

The Office for Students (OfS) said “practical steps to secure freedom of speech” must be taken, with Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge saying she supported the “widest possible definition of free speech”.

It comes after Selina Todd, a professor of History at Oxford, was banned from speaking at an event celebrating British feminism because of her views on gender recognition law.

‘Clear breach’

Todd had been due to speak at the Exeter College event marking the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Liberation Conference, but her invitation was rescinded after other participants accused her of ‘transphobia’.

The respected historian does not believe that a man can become a woman simply by self-identifying as one, and was “stunned” to be informed the evening before the conference that she would not be permitted to speak.

A formal complaint was made to the college, noting that the no-platforming was a “clear breach” of Exeter’s code of practice, which stipulates that all events must uphold freedom of speech.

Different views

Dandridge highlighted the importance of free speech, saying staff and students must be prepared to engage with different views, even if they find them “uncomfortable or offensive”.

She said: “All universities need to demonstrate that they are taking reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech.”

In November 2017 the Chairman of the OfS said the “widest possible definition” of free speech means “anything within the law”.

Universities which do not adopt a broad enough definition of free speech could be subject to intervention by the watchdog.

Also see:

Megaphone

Free speech in universities

Govt watchdog will uphold campus free speech

Education Secretary threatens universities over free speech censorship

Oxford college backs down in trans free speech row

Universities launch free speech societies

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