Uni free speech tsar: ‘Discussion is the alternative to violence’

The Government’s free speech tsar has warned that it is “essential” society learns to “settle disputes not through violence but through discussion”.

In Prof Arif Ahmed’s first speech as the Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students, he emphasised that free speech and academic freedom are “fundamental” for universities’ pursuit of knowledge and societal progress.

The Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge suggested that if society forgets that words are the “alternative to violence”, then “we as a society are finished”.


The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, which became law in May, puts a new duty on universities in England to “actively promote” free speech.

Prof Ahmed warned that there is evidence to support “persistent and widespread concerns that many in higher education are being silenced, either by the activity of the university or by its inactivity”.

The free speech tsar will be able to investigate complaints of no-platforming, under a system which is currently under consultation and is expected to come into force next August.

He said: “All staff and students are entitled to teach, learn and research in a culture that values vigorous debate, including – or perhaps particularly – in relation to difficult or contentious or discomforting topics.”


Last week, Cambridge University’s new Vice-Chancellor also reiterated her commitment to fostering free speech on campus.

In her first Annual Address, Professor Deborah Prentice said in the coming year she hopes to begin work on conversations that provide “a public forum for the exchange of conflicting and possibly controversial views”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, she said: “Freedom of speech is fundamental to any university” and conversations on campus “must continue even if it is not always easy”.

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