Professor blasts ‘dismal failure’ of universities to defend free speech

An Oxford University professor has blasted universities for failing to adequately defend free speech.

Professor Selina Todd said that discussion and debate are often stifled as universities’ free speech policies are often directly contradicted by diversity policies which override them.

Her comments came as the Government announced a range of tough new measures to ensure that free speech is not restricted at universities.

Diversity policies

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Prof Todd said that while Oxford does have a “very good” free speech policy, “it completely conflicts with our diversity policies”, explaining that lobby groups like Stonewall “pressurise institutions to write policies that say you cannot have debate on certain issues”.

She added: “Universities need to realise that they cannot on one hand have policies like that, which they may adopt quite cynically because they want the badge of Stonewall champion because in a marketplace they are diverse and liberal and all the rest of it, they cannot on the one hand uphold that and then claim they are upholding freedom of debate because I’m an example they are not doing that.”

The professor has previously had security guards assigned for her lectures after threats were made against her by transgender activists, and criticised Oxford for its lack of action, saying: “the amount of support I’ve had from my institution has been laughable – they have never made a public statement in my defence”.

She said: “Universities do have a legal right to uphold freedom of debate and they’ve dismally failed to do so in recent years and things have got a lot worse for academics and for students, many of whom get in touch with me anonymously to say how frightened they are to speak out.”


In a letter to The Times, Prof Todd again criticised the ‘Stonewall Diversity Champions’ scheme, explaining that membership “requires the adoption of policies that undermine freedom to debate”.

“Oxford University’s equalities policies, which are typical of the sector, claim ‘gender identity’ is ‘assigned at birth’ and define women as a ‘gender’ rather than as a sex — which we legally are, under the Equality Act 2010.

She continued: “This is an ideological stance rather than evidence-based policy. It leaves those of us whose teaching and scholarship concern women, or rely on sex-disaggregated data, open to complaint and attack for our lawful view that biological sex exists.

“Universities, and the government, cannot uphold free speech while championing such policies.”

Tougher sanctions

Earlier this week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a number of tough measures that would be placed on universities to ensure they uphold free speech, after it was revealed that an increasing number of students, staff and academics are being silenced or no-platformed for holding or expressing ‘unpopular’ views.

Places of higher education will now be subject to a new free speech condition in order to be registered in England and access public funding. If universities and colleges break this condition, the Office for Students (OfS) will have the power to impose sanctions upon them, including financial penalties.

OfS Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: “Free speech and academic freedom are essential to teaching and research.”

‘Under threat’

Last week, a poll conducted by Savanta ComRes found that 50 per cent of Britons believe free speech is ‘under threat’.

The poll, which interviewed 2,119 adults, found a further 42 per cent admitted they felt they could not speak openly on transgender issues.

It also found that 43 per cent are “afraid to speak their minds” with the police.

Also see:

Clare College Cambridge

Oxbridge among worst universities for campus free speech

Oxford college told to protect free speech following trans row

‘UK Govt must buttress free speech’: Adam Smith Institute