Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor: ‘Free speech and academic freedom must be preserved’

Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor has called on the university to uphold free speech for its staff and students amid reports of intimidation.

Professor Dame Louise Richardson, who will step down from her role in December after seven years, highlighted “the need to preserve academic freedom and freedom of speech” as one of “four key challenges for the years ahead”.

She said: “I have been shaken by the level of threat and harassment experienced in recent years by some of our academics, especially female academics, and especially via social media.”


In 2020, Oxford professor Selina Todd was assigned security for her lectures after she received threats for challenging the narrative that transgenderism has been prevalent throughout history.

Professor Todd had been informed by two students of the online threats made against her, and the history department received “daily” complaints calling for her to be sacked.

In contrast, the Vice-Chancellor said she hoped students would learn “how to disagree well” when they come to university, and that “in future the tone of Oxford” would positively influence students.


Last month, research by the Policy Institute at King’s College London found that UK students are increasingly concerned that free speech is at risk in their universities.

The study, based on multiple surveys, reported that although 65 per cent of students still claim free speech and robust debate are “well protected” in their university, an increasing number said they had heard of incidents where it had been “inhibited”.

When asked how threatened free speech is in their university, one in three (34 per cent) said it is “very” or “fairly threatened”, up from 23 per cent in 2019.

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