Oxford’s new Vice-Chancellor: ‘I will be championing free speech’

Oxford University’s new Vice-Chancellor has vowed to champion free speech for the university’s staff and students.

Professor Irene Tracey, who took up the role last week, told BBC Radio 4 Today: “You’re going to have to grapple with different opinions and different views and views that you’re not necessarily comfortable with. The other part of that is the ability to deliver and receive criticism.

“I’m a defender of free speech, and I will be championing that as part of my role as Vice-Chancellor.”

‘Shut down’

Professor Arif Ahmed of Cambridge University, the leading contender to become England’s Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom, has warned that ‘equality and diversity’ initiatives “risk being misapplied or misunderstood in ways that compromise free speech”.

He was recently criticised by the Master of Gonville and Caius College, Professor Pippa Rogerson, for inviting gender-critical author Helen Joyce to speak at the College. Sociology Professor Manali Desai apologised to students for any “distress” caused by a faculty email advertising the event.

I’m a defender of free speech

Speaking to The Telegraph, Prof Ahmed said the incident showed that those with “well-meaning intentions” can be “influenced in the wrong direction by a small group of people who think that the best way to protect rights is to shut down anyone who speaks on the other side, which is a mistake”.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, will put a new duty on universities in England to “actively promote” freedom of speech and it will enable the free speech director to investigate complaints of no-platforming.


In Canada, trans activists shut down a lecture at McGill University in Montreal that aimed to highlight the impact on women’s rights when women do not speak out on transgenderism for fear of intimidation.

Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London, said “I have to thank the protestors for giving me first-hand experience of that intimidation” and for proving his argument that any debate on the issue is branded “hate speech”.

He added: “Probably the majority of women in this country disagree with some of transgender demands but they refuse to say so because they will be seen as intolerant.”


In December, the head of the universities watchdog for England warned that university staff must not use equality law to silence free speech on campus.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the Office for Students (OfS), warned higher education institutions that policies promoting one protected characteristic “to the detriment of others” may “amount to unlawful discrimination” and could restrict free speech.

The watchdog published a briefing to highlight recent evidence on the issue and provide guidance to universities on their legal duties to uphold free speech.

Also see:

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