Senior academic calls for universities to help end cancel culture

The President of University College London (UCL) has called on universities to teach students how to better disagree with one another in order to defeat ‘cancel culture’.

Dr Michael Spence said that in order to promote free speech, universities have a duty to “model and to teach students how to disagree well across really sometimes quite profound barriers of disagreement”.

“Not making an enemy of other people, trying to work out where there is common ground – these are core intellectual skills that I think universities have a fundamental role in teaching”.


Dr Spence said that when UCL was founded in 1826, students had to “learn that art of having a good coffee room debate”, but now they need to be able to use those skills both in person and online.

The Times noted the case of Dr Neil Thin of the University of Edinburgh, who said that students started an online campaign against him after he criticised the university’s decision to rename the David Hume tower.

The right to free speech is worthless if it does not include the right to offend. The Times

The newspaper commented: “The right to free speech is worthless if it does not include the right to offend.

“If students feel unable to handle being confronted with ideas that do not conform to their world view then they should not be attacking those with whom they disagree; they should be asking themselves whether they are suited to the intellectual rigours of academic life.”


Earlier this month, the Russell Group pledged to fight cancel culture and protect the “diversity of ideas” on campus.

Representing the top 24 universities in the UK, the group said that academic freedom and freedom of speech are “fundamental to our purpose as academic institutions”.

It comes in the wake of a Government clampdown on universities which do not actively promote free speech.

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