Heroes and Zeros

Illustration by H. C. Selous (1886) Thersites accosts Achilles from Troilus and Cressida (Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare). In the public domain.

This is AFAF’s assessment of who we think are academic freedom’s ‘heroes’ and ‘zeros’ each month.

June 2024

Our Hero is journalist, Charlotte Gill, for beginning to catalogue the millions of pounds spent on what she calls ‘woke waste’ in UK universities and elsewhere. Follow @WokeWaste on X/Titter

Our Zero is SOAS, University of London, for publishing a toolkit to ‘decolonise’ philosophy that  sidelines the great philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle.  This toolkit is not about widening the philosophy curriculum but destroying it.

May 2024

Our Heroes are the many organisations who, alongside the AFAF branches, actively promoted International Academic Freedom Day (IAFD) on 20 May. They included: the Academy of Ideas, Akademische Freiheit, Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Liberté Académique, Movement for a Free Academia and the Syndicat des Agrégés de l’Enseignement Supérieur.

Our Zero is Professor Wendy Larner, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cardiff, who charged Cardiff Academic Freedom Association (CAFA) £1500 to cover venue and security costs for a panel debate organised as their launch meeting. Such meetings are not ‘external’ even if external guests are present. This is a new form of censorship by charging. Fortunately, the Free Speech Union stepped in and paid what AFAF are calling the ‘Cardiff Charge’. No to the ‘Cardiff Charge’ at any university!

April 2024

Our Hero is Ben Yaghlane Lassaad, the Tunisian-born owner of the Claridge Event Venue in Brussels, who resisted the order shut the NatCon Conference down on 16 April. Despite his livelihood being threatened he stood up for freedom of speech.  He told GB News: “I think that we have opened a new space for discussion and new opportunity for all to participate in political debate.” Ben’s courage shows what one person can achieve if they are principled and brave enough. 

Our Zero is Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for reversing its previous free speech stance and severing all ties with post-graduate researcher, Nathan Cofnas. They said that Cofnas’ ‘race realist’ views, expressed in a blog, contravened their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies.

March 2024

Our Hero is the Free Speech Union (FSU). On Tuesday 5 March, the FSU celebrated its fourth anniversary. It now has over 21,000 members and supporters and has become the leading organisation that defends all our freedoms in the UK.

Our Zero is York St John University for slapping ‘trigger warnings’ on a collection of children’s books, including Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland for ‘white supremacy’ and containing  ‘colonialist narratives’ . As an antidote to this infantilising labelling we recommend this excellent article by James Woudhuysen on Why Alice is still wonderful.

February 2024

Our Hero is Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, for his powerful speech at a House of Commons event on Tuesday 27 February, when he spoke out against universities becoming ‘uniformities’ of rigid thinking and self censorship. He challenged his fellow Vice-Chancellors to be bold in defending academic freedom and promoting diversity of thought.

Our Zero is Swansea University Library for pulling Helen Joyce’s book Trans from a display after a single complaint!

January 2024

Our Hero for January 2024 is Jo Phoenix. Jo finally won her case for constructive dismissal against the Open University. An employment tribunal found she had been harassed and bullied because of her gender-critical beliefs. The response to her victory was almost unanimously celebratory and she even appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour!

Our Zero of the month must be the Open University.  The tribunal in the Phoenix case found that the University failed to protect Jo ‘because they did not want to be seen to give any kind of support to academics with gender critical beliefs’. The University has apologised unreservedly to Jo and is organising an independent review of its failings and how it could better defend academic freedom.

December 2023

Our Hero of 2023 is Shereen Benjamin (and Edinburgh AFAF) for their determination and persistence is securing the showing of the film Adult Human Female at the University of Edinburgh and by doing so set a marker for free speech and academic freedom that we will all benefit from.

Our Zero of 2023 is Jo Grady, General secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), and those Union members who opposed free speech for gender critical views. It remains to be seen if UCU adopts a more principled stance in 2024 because of fears that its pro-Palestine views may be proscribed.

November 2023

Our Hero is Edinburgh Academics For Academic Freedom (EAFAF) for their persistence in ensuring that the film Adult Human Female was shown at the university at the third time of trying. They have upheld free speech and academic freedom for us all. The BBC even covered the story of the showing of the film. It says something about the state of UK universities that a film screening makes national headlines. EAFAF wrote a blog on the event.

An Heroic mention goes to the 34 courageous Irish academics who, on 7 November, wrote to the Irish Times opposing academic boycotts of Israel. In the letter they said: ‘Universities are vital bridges for connecting critical and dissenting voices worldwide’. They were ‘courageous’ in publicaly replying to a letter signed by six hundred Irish academics calling for an academic boycott.

Our first Zero is Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar who vowed to ‘modernise’ and make stronger planned hate speech laws that are already the most censorious in the world. The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 has been widely condemned as brazenly anti-free speech and being a blueprint for authoritarianism. In the Bill ‘hate’ is defined in a circular way as ‘hatred’ and if you are judged to be even ‘likely’ to incite hated, this will be a crime.

Our second Zero is the Edinburgh Branch of UCU and their EDI allies for attempting, yet again, to stop the film Adult Human Female being shown despite national UCU’s discovery of free speech and academic freedom. This is their fourth appearance here.

October 2023

Our Hero for October is Eric Kaufmann. Professor Kaufmann resigned from his secure role of professor of politics at Birkbeck to start a new role as a professor of political science at the University of Buckingham. Kaufmann said that the appointment will enable him to engage in a war against woke.

Our Zero is the Edinburgh branch of the University and College Union (EUCU). EUCU campaigned to cancel the launch of a book on Sex and Gender saying that the book was ‘transphobic’.  This is EUCU’s fifth appearance as a Zero. Edinburgh AFAF branch convenor, Shereen Benjamin, commented that they will be proud of their regular appearance as censors.

We also give a second ‘Zero’ award to the University of Cambridge Library for blacklisting ‘harmful’  books that don’t fit its ‘decolonisation’ agenda.

September 2023

Our Hero is Baroness Anne Jenkin of Kennington for organising the, now, annual Parliamentary Event in Support of Freedom of Expression at the House of Lords on Wednesday 20 September. The event was chaired by Andrew Doyle (co-founder of Comedy Unleashed and host of Free Speech Nation on GB News). All the free speech groups were there including, Academics For Academic Freedom, Academy of Ideas, Alumni For Free Speech, Don’t Divide Us, The Equiano Project, the Free Speech Union, LGB Alliance, Sex Matters, Together, and more. Keynote speakers included, Sharon Davies, Maya Forstater, Kate Harris and Inaya Folarin Iman.

Our first Zero, and possibly our Zero for 2023, is Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU). Grady said in a fringe debate at the Trades Union Congress on 10 September: “Whilst it is clear that gender-critical beliefs are protected, the form of expression isn’t. You might have freedom of speech, but you don’t have freedom to offend – particularly if that offence is enshrined within the law, and I think that’s one of the things that we try and educate our members about quite a lot”. Grady was wrong in law and wrong on free speech, which is often, and necessarily offensive if it challenges conventional thought. That she seeks to educate her members that there is no right to offend is a new low for her and UCU.

Our second Zero is James Mannion, Director of Rethinking Education for capitulating to the seven people (speakers and delegates) who said that they would feel unsafe and unable to attend if Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, the Director of Don’t Divide Us, was present the Rethinking Ed Conference 2023.  Mannion put ‘psychological safety’ above debate and banned her at short notice. As many said, this shameful cancellation by the organisers shows that ‘feeling unsafe’ means ‘I don’t want to hear views I disagree with’.

August 2023

Our Hero is Elon Musk who announced that he would pay the legal costs of anyone treated unfairly by their employers because of their social media posts. If true, this could be a game-changer as much of AFAF’s case work concerns defending academics and students whose social media posts are said to be ‘offensive’ by students, academics, or university managers.

Another ‘Hero’ coming late to the battle is the London Evening Standard. In early august, The paper launched an inquiry into attacks on free speech and cancel culture. Rip Van Winkle comes to mind!

Our Zero is the Labour Party for recommitting to introducing tougher ‘hate crime’ legislation that many fear would outlaw gender-critical views.  Maya Forstater, commenting on an Institute of Economic Affairs report, said ‘[the] proposed new laws against conversion therapy, and hate speech and for gender self-identity attack freedom of speech and belief, the pursuit of truth and value’.

July 2023

Our Hero is Nigel Farage for exposing how we may all be at risk of having our bank accounts closed for our political views, even for defending free speech!

Our Zero is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, for suggesting that universities should lose funding if Trans or other minority students felt ‘abused, insulted and excluded’.  This punitive belief, with ‘insulted’ in its trinity, merges free speech with harassment and would undermine the former.

June 2023

Our Hero is Arif Ahmed, the first Director for Free Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students. In an opinion piece published in The Times on 1 June,  he opened with this powerful statement: ‘A university is not a club. It is not a political lobby. It is not a “brand”. It exists to seek and speak the truth, whatever it costs, and whoever it offends. Therefore, without freedom to explore controversial or “offensive” ideas, a university is nothing. These freedoms are worth fighting for…’ He takes up his appointment later in the summer.

Our Zeros are the Trans activists in Liverpool who unsuccessfully threatened the launch meeting of the University of Liverpool AFAF branch. Due to careful planning by the branch, several relocations, and support from the University, the meeting went ahead. But such manoeuvres should not be necessary in universities where free speech should rule.

May 2023

Our headline Hero is Kathleen Stock. The events of 30 May turned it into ‘Kathleen Stock Day’ (see below). Stock needed a bodyguard to get to the venue for her Oxford Union talk, and despite a delay her talk went ahead. The day ended with her appearance in the Channel 4 documentary Gender Wars. She wrote a very positive and optimistic account of her experience at Oxford in UnHerd.

Our other Heroes are the 44 Academics and over 100 students who wrote letters in support of the Oxford Union hosting a talk by Kathleen Stock on 30 May. They criticised the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) for its censorship, for severing its ties with the Oxford Union and no-platforming it from its Freshers’ Fair.  The Oxford Union is an independent institution, founded in 1823, that is committed to upholding free speech ‘by challenging ideas’. It recruits many of its members at the Freshers’ Fair. This ban was an attempt to threaten its existence but was reversed when the University reminded the OUSU trustees of its free speech policy.  A special mention goes to the pro-vice Chancellor of the University, Martin Williams, who spoke out in defence of free speech telling students that they must be prepared to “encounter and confront difficult views, including ones they find unsettling, extreme or even offensive”.

Our headline Zeros are the Oxford University Student Union and the LGBTQ+ Society for their opposition to free speech. They called for a mass protest at the meeting expecting a thousand protesters, but only a few hundred turned out and they had ‘safe spaces’ to retreat to.  In this instance the protesters clearly lost the battle for censorship thanks to the willingness of academics and students to speak out against ‘an aggressive minority of students’ and to Stock’s courage in continuing to speak out.  

Our other Zeros are the 100 academics from Oxford who shamelessly wrote an open letter stating their opposition to Stock speaking. Without any sense of irony one of the signatories said: “Debate is essential for a vibrant democracy, and we champion it. But what the discourse needs now is more civil conversations and less bad-faith argumentation.’

April 2023

Our first Hero is Edinburgh AFAF for continuing to defend free speech despite intimidation from a masked mob. They are determined that the film Adult Human Female will be shown at the University of Edinburgh. We wrote to the Provost and the Principal asking them to facilitate the showing of the film and to show their support for free speech by attending. We await a reply.

Our Heroic mention is the University of Reading for overturning the cancellation of James Sunderland, MP for Bracknell by the Politics Society for being white. After some bad publicity the students reversed their decision  The University’s vice-chancellor has pledged to investigate the “oversight of clubs and societies”.

Our Zero is the University of Edinburgh Staff Pride Network who, along with the local branch of the University and College Union (UCU), were complicit in the disruption of the showing of the film Adult Human Female and thus continuing their war on free speech and academic freedom.

March 2023

Our Hero Is Dr John Armstrong who revealed how internal processes such as having to submit research projects for ethical approval can be highly politicised. Armstrong submitted a ‘proposal for ethical review at Kings College London which stated that the aim of the research was “to find the views of athletes and volunteers on the question of when males should be allowed to compete in the female category in athletics”. The ethics committee rejected the proposal, on the grounds that using the terms “male” and “female” in this sentence constituted “misgendering”.’  This denial of biological sex would render his research meaningless. But it is not just EDI activists that interfere with research. The imposition by other university activists and managers of sustainable development goals, intersectional approaches, critical race theory, and more, are politicising research. Armstrong ends an article on his experience  in The Critic with a plea: University leaders need to act. If they continue to allow activists to interfere with what we teach and what we research, it will undermine the credibility of science.

Our Zero is the University and College Union (UCU) branch at the University of Edinburgh for continuing to try to stop the showing of the film Adult Human Female along with a discussion organised by Edinburgh AFAF for 26 April. On 29 March @ucuedinburgh tweeted: ‘In line with our democratically-agreed policy, we opposed this transphobic event last time they tried it and will do so again’.  Shereen Benjamin of Edinburgh AFAF said it was a tiring fight: ‘But, in the end, we can’t let a tiny number of people control what can and can’t be discussed on campus, can we?’

February 2023

Our Hero is the new campaign group Alumni For Free Speech (AFFS) for beginning to put pressure on university vice-chancellors to uphold free speech. Their work is a welcome addition to that of the Free Speech Union and AFAF and the three organisations will now be a powerful force for free speech and academic freedom in the UK, Ireland and beyond.  

Our Zero is the University of Edinburgh for dragging its feet by putting obstacles in the way of showing the film Adult Human Female even after pressure from the Edinburgh Branch of AFAF, AFAF and the AFFS.

January 2023

Our first Hero is Dr Richard Norrie, director of the statistics and policy research programme at the think tank Civitas, for producing the first ever league table of ‘radical progressive’, or woke, Universities. The report recognises that it may understate the extent of woke influence and others agree.  

Our second Hero is Susan Lapworth, the chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), for recognising in a blog that  there are challenges to free speech in universities ‘…we’re [the OfS] clear: this is a real issue. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise’. Well said!

Our first two Zeros are the University of Derby for putting trigger warnings on a module about tragic dramas because of their ‘obsession’ with violence and suffering, and  the University of Greenwich, for putting trigger warnings on Jane Austen for ‘gender stereotyping’. At the start of 2023 it is time for universities to resolve to treat students as the adults they are and stop infantilising them.

Our third Zero is the London School of Economics for removing the term names ‘Lent and Easter’ to, they say, ‘better reflect the international nature of our community’. Critics say it in not only ‘woke’ but a rejection of Britain’s Christian heritage.

December 2022

Our Heroes are Shereen Benjamin, and Edinburgh AFAF, for valiantly attempting to show the film Adult Human Female at the University of Edinburgh on 14 December. They are determined to reschedule the showing in defiance of the mob that forced its cancellation.

Our Zeros are the academics, UCU officers and their student allies, who packed the rooms and mobbed the organisers so that the showing of the film Adult Human Female was stopped. They hysterically claimed that it was ‘transphobic.’ They ignored the Provost of the University who, rightly, suggested that they do what all academics and students should do – go along and join in the debate. It is a low point in academia if alternative viewpoints are stamped out rather than challenged in debate.

November 2022

Our Heroes are the 12 leading mathematicians, including Royal Society members Sir John Ball, Professor Philip Dawid and Professor Mary Rees, who signed a letter against the politicisation of mathematics. Under new subject benchmarks out for consultation is a suggestion that ‘the curriculum should present a multicultural and decolonised view of MSOR [Mathematics Statistics and Organisational Research], informed by the student voice and students should be made aware of problematic issues in the development of the MSOR content they are being taught’. Examples listed include how some pioneers of statistics supported eugenics, and mathematicians’ connections to the slave trade, racism or Nazism.

One of the signatories, Dr John Armstrong, a lecturer at King’s College London, told the Daily Mail that although many of the subject requirements ‘might be very reasonable’, it was facile to insist ‘absolutely every single maths course to cover these same things’ … he felt the guidance should be concerned only with what the basics of a mathematical curriculum might be, adding that a centralised description of content ‘reduces the academic freedom of mathematicians to deliver the courses they wish to deliver’. 

Our Zeros are the pitiful, joyless students who held a sober, vegan ‘party’ to celebrate the anniversary of driving Professor Kathleen Stock out of the University of Sussex.

Stock commented on Twitter: “I miss you too babes!”

October 2022

Our first Hero of the month is the outgoing vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Louise Richardson, who asked her matriculating students: ‘…to adhere to the Augustinian precept: Audi alteram partem – hear the other side…[and] I tell them that they will hear views here with which they disagree, may even find offensive. But that they should engage with these ideas in an atmosphere that our colleague Tim Garton-Ash calls robust debate. They should through reasoned debate, seek to change the other’s mind, and above all be open to having their own mind changed too’.

Our second Hero is the London School of Economics (LSE). After complaints from academics about a ‘hostile environment’ for gender critical views, the LSE said that a statement critical of those questioning transgender ideology did not reflect the views of the university but only those of a faculty, which later took the letter down.

A spokesman said: ‘Academic freedom and freedom of expression underpins everything we do at LSE. Students and staff are strongly encouraged to discuss and debate the most pressing issues around the world in a mutually respectful manner. 

The statement published on the Gender Studies departmental web page did not reflect the views or the position of the School as an institution, rather it was the views of individual faculty. It was removed after complaints were received’.

Our first Zero is Andrew M. Boggs,University Clerk at Kingston University. Boggs, writing a Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) blog on  behalf of London Higher, a group representing more than 40 London universities and higher education institutions, ridiculously compared promoting free speech to eating a smelly tuna sandwich in a lift.  He reveals his anti-free speech position later in his piece: ‘… upholding freedom of speech often means carefully considering the impact of a particular view or belief being expressed, and imposing reasonable controls or supports, such as the cost of security, requiring additional speakers expressing alternate views, or simply not providing a platform for views which cannot be evidenced or are deliberately misleading’.

Our second Zeros of the month are the Cambridge academics, Professor Pippa Rogerson, master of Gonville and Caius College, and senior tutor, Dr Andrew Spencer.  Not only did they boycott a talk at the College by Helen Joyce, the journalist and author of the best seller Trans (see The Banned List), but they also provided another clear example of ‘we believe in free speech BUT’: ‘We have worked hard, and we will continue to strive to make Caius an inclusive, diverse and welcoming home for our students, staff and Fellows. We feel events such as this do not contribute to this aim. Caius should be a place for the highest quality of research to be produced and discussed, rather than polemics’.

September 2022

Our Hero is Toby Young, the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union, who led the fight against deplatforming by PayPal and won.

Our Zero is PayPal. The financial technology company suspended the accounts of the Free Speech Union, the Daily Sceptic and the parents’ campaign group UsForThem. PayPal did no specify what rule the organisations had broken. The Free Speech Union, and many others, went to war against PayPal for what Molly Kingsley, a co-founder of UsForThem, called ‘a dangerous escalation in Big Tech’s war on free speech’. After MPs, and many well-known figures, attacked the decision and closed their PayPal accounts, the company relented and re-instated these accounts. Those censored and others – including AFAF – are closing their accounts with PayPal.

Update: In a further development PalPal suffered a backlash on social media for a supposed policy decision to fine account holders $2,500 for spreading ‘minformation’. PalPal seemingly backtracked again saying the communication was sent in error.

July 2022

Our Hero is the University of Buckingham (and the Vice Chancellor, Professor James Tooley) for awarding an honorary doctorate to Dr Tony Sewell for his outstanding work in getting disadvantaged pupils into top universities. The University of Nottingham was our Zero in March 2022 (see below) for withdrawing the offer of an honorary doctorate to Dr Sewell after criticism from those who disagreed with the findings of his race report.

Our Zero is the University of Bristol for proscribing the use of ‘a slew of allegedly offensive terms, including ‘gendered’ words like ‘manpower’ and ‘mankind’ as well as age-related nicknames like ‘millennial’ and ‘baby boomer’.  As author, Joanna Williams, said: “The idea that in a university, people need to be dictated to in this way is really insulting to students and academics, we should be able to cope with words…These words have evolved over a long period of time, and they don’t have sexist associations”.

June 2022

Our Hero is Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, for her letter sent to universities on 27 June asking them to consider whether their continued involvement with external equality and diversity schemes had a chilling effect on freedom of speech. This is her third appearance here as a hero.

Our first Zero is Universities UK for saying that Donelan’s letter ‘crossed an important line’ and they defended the right of universities to act as independent companies and to support these schemes. In doing so they defended the actions of their members in uncritically indoctrinating their staff with political ideologies.

Our second Zero is Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, whose Online Safety Bill was published on 28 June after it concluded its committee stage in the House of Commons. The clause about removing ‘legal but harmful’ content remains, opening the way for sweeping censorship. Dories also has the power to determine what this means through secondary legislation.

May 2022

Our Hero is Nadhim Zahawi, the secretary of State for Education, who defended a student’s right to challenge him in debate at the University of Warwick (see The Banned List, May 2022). The student in question was Joel Cooper, son of Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls. Zahawi subsequently wrote in the Mail on Sunday that his experience at Warwick made him ‘more convinced than ever that the chilling crushing of free speech needs to be countered. Put simply, sometimes we must hear and consider points of view that we disagree with’.

Our Zeros are the University and College Union (UCU) branches who put forward motion 38 to UCU Congress. Writing in the Morning Star, Holly Smith, Shereen Benjamin and Judith Suissa argued that the motion was ‘wilfully divisive. It depicts as “transphobes” anyone who holds “gender critical views,” which means the view that sex matters in a range of contexts, from sports to single-sex service provision’. They also, rightly, stated that ‘The position that only one view is acceptable is incompatible with democracy and antithetical to academic freedom.’ (Following legal advice UCU struck elements of the motion from the congress agenda as they were considered to be unlawful under the Equality Act. There is a good background report in the Times Higher Education magazine)

April 2022

Our Hero is Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, for her principled approach to free speech in her talk In Defence of Free Speech at the Policy Exchange on 26 April. She reminded her audience, and universities, that ‘Free speech is the beating heart on which all of our other freedoms rest’ and we must defend it.

Our Zero is the University of Stirling for replacing dropping Jane Austen with Toni Morrison on a ‘Special Authors’ module. Although not a simple decolonising cancellation, internal communications revealed that Morrison’s texts will help with the ‘decolonisation of the curriculum’, and ‘contribute to increased diversity’ on the course.  

March 2022

Our Hero is Deniz Akinci, the new University College London Student Union Affairs Officer, who refused to sign the Students for Justice in Palestine BDS declaration. Instead, he put the values of free-speech and dialogue before division and intimidation. (Source – an AFAF member).

Our Zero is The University of Nottingham for withdrawing the offer of an honorary doctorate to Tony Sewell, whose well-researched views on race they deemed too controversial. This was an abject capitulation by the University to ideological pressure from so-called ‘anti-racists’.

February 2022

Our Hero is Open University student Sam Cowie who has fought for recognition of the Free Speech Society he formed last year but has been told that moves to get official affiliation for the club are currently ‘on hold’. Cowie now fears his society will be ‘cancelled’.

Our Zero is Imperial College  for its refusal to publish 208 contributions on the recommendations of the ‘History Group’ that was formed to investigate the institutions links with Empire. One of its recommendations was to ‘cancel’ T. E. Huxley, the founder of the College. These contributions include several lengthy essays, some from professional historians. ‘An assurance was given that these would all be made available to the Imperial community to read, anonymised. This is what one would expect; sharing these views and insights would register the range and strength of opinion and allow everyone to gain a deeper understanding of Imperial’s history. But that hasn’t happened. Instead the President and Provost changed their minds and have refused to share these contributions.’  This is unacceptable censorship by the leaders of the college.

January 2022

Our Hero is the Higher Education Research Group of Murray House School of Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh, for organising a debate at the start of the year on whether academic freedom is under threat. All universities should hold such debates.

A special mention goes Daniel Ben Ami for opposing the censorship of hateful antisemitic speech on his new website the Radicalism of Fools.

Our Zero is the University of Northampton for putting a trigger warning on Orwell’s novel 1984 because students may find ‘explicit material’ in the novel that is ‘offensive and upsetting’. Possibly because they might discover it is no longer fiction and they are living in that dystopia, 1984=2022.

December 2021

Our Heroes are the students from Liberate the Debate and the Free Speech Champions for holding a Free Speech Symposium at the University of Sussex on Saturday 3 December.  Giving a lead while academics at Kathleen Stock’s former university kept their heads down.

A special mention goes to University College London for being the first University to formally withdraw from the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. The Guardian reported that the academic board and management had decided that ‘membership of Stonewall’s programmes could inhibit academic freedom and discussion around sex and gender’.

Our Zeros are the students at the University of Durham who called for the disciplining or removal of Professor Tim Luckhurst. Luckhurst had called students ‘pathetic’ for walking out of a dinner where Times journalist, Rod Liddle, was to speak. We can also give a special mention to the University itself for suspending Luckhurst. What can you say but “Pathetic” to the lot of them.

November 2021

Our first Hero is the Bristol Free Speech Society for being brave enough to organise an ‘in conversation’ event with Professor Stephen Greer on Islamophobia and Academic Freedom. Greer had previously been accused by the Bristol Islamic Society of having ‘Islamophobic content’ in his teaching (See The Banned List, February 2021).

Our second Hero is the UK Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, for defending freedom of speech and condemning the bullying of Kathleen Stock. Answering questions in the House of Commons on diversity and freedom of belief in public institutions, she said: “Freedom of belief and speech are vital pillars of our democratic society, and no one should be silenced for expressing their legitimately held opinions”.

Our Zero is the University of the Arts London, for its mistreatment of Peter Huffam. Huffam was suspended by the University in October 2019, after three anonymous postgraduate students in a language lesson complained that they felt uncomfortable, that his language was inappropriate, and the class was ‘sexualised’. Huffam had ‘asked students to complete an exercise which involved matching six descriptions about style…from newspaper articles to six photos of the outfits. One newspaper’s description of a photo of a woman said: ‘Add a lick of purple lippy and some embellished heels and this look makes for one hot mama’. Huffam’s career was thrown into disarray for over two years because of the suspension. The University recently apologised for his treatment, and he is seeking compensation. AFAF deals with many cases like this. It is time for Universities to reject anonymous complaints and not use them to discipline staff and students – ’No name, no complaint’.

October 2021

Our Hero is Adam Tickell, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex who made clear his support for academic freedom and his repulsion at the harassment of Professor Kathleen Stock, while the majority of academics in his institution said and did nothing.

Our Zero is the University and College Union for its abject failure to speak out for academic freedom and defend Professor Kathleen Stock from persecution on campus.

September 2021

Our Hero is Ellie Lee, Professor of Family and Parenting Research at the University of Kent (UKC). Who was brave enough to make her concerns about her employer mandating a revised four hour online module for all students entitled Expect Respect that included a claim that wearing second hand clothes was an example of ‘white privilege’ (see below). Speaking to the Telegraph she said: “I’ve said I’m not going to do it (add trigger warnings or decolonise reading lists) and I’m not going to tell students to do this module either …and “quite a lot” of her colleagues had followed suit. She wrote an account of her week after going public in a blog on why she said “No!” on the Don’t Divide Us website.

Our Zero is the University of Kent for attempting to ‘mandate’ a four-hour long module Expect Respect for all students regardless of programme or level of study. Professor Lee says:

“I went into the module and was genuinely horrified at what students were asked to do and ‘learn’. The section titled, ‘(Anti-) Racism, Xenophobia and White Privilege’ begins:

Throughout, we review the meaning of racism and how to recognize it, microaggressions and structural racism, white privilege and white supremacy, and bias as well as offer some starting methods as combat these forms of oppression with antiracist action. There is also information provided on help and support available at Kent for anyone affected by racism.

The content is, simply and explicitly, a statement of support for Critical Race Theory, and students encouraged to ‘learn it’ and behave accordingly.”

AFAF believes that all controversial subjects should be approached through debate and discussion. Imposing contested views on students turns the university into a training institution.

August 2021

Our Hero is Father David Palmer who was nominated by his bishop as the Catholic chaplain to the University of Nottingham. The University rejected the nomination because, although they upheld his right to hold anti-abortion and other views, they did not like the ‘tone’ in which he expressed them. Palmer is our hero for going public on this issue when too many people suffer censorship in silence. (Update: In September 2021 the University accepted the nomination but stipulated a new probationary period)

Our Zero is Lisa Tilley – who claimed in a blog that she had ‘…resigned from [her] position in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck because of Eric Kaufmann’s public statements and activities, and because of the impact on Birkbeck staff and students of being in such close proximity to his far-right followers.’ It’s a statement that undermines the very basis of a university. If only views acceptable to her and others were allowed, then a university would be reduced to an indoctrination institution.  

July 2021

Our Heroes are the Academy of Ideas, The University of Buckingham and the Free Speech Champions who organised a panel debate on ‘Free speech: how can we combat campus cancel culture?’ as part of the Battle of Ideas Open For Debate event. While risk-adverse UK universities fear to hold large lectures, the Academy of Ideas showed the way forward by organising a face-to-face event with over four hundred attendees.

Our Zero is Nottingham Trent University for withdrawing the offer of a place to a student because of the racist views that he voiced on Snapchat. Others on Snapchat had already denounced his views and argued with him. It should have ended there.

June 2021

Our Hero for this month is Lisa Keogh, a final year student at Abertay University, Dundee. Keogh was brave enough to go public about being subject to a disciplinary procedure after fellow students complained about her saying, in a discussion, that women have vaginas and are not as strong as men.  A disciplinary board dismissed all the complaints. We need more students (and academics) to speak up when subject to these secretive attacks on free speech inside our universities.

Our Zero is the Oxford University Student Union that hopes to have sensitivity readers sanitise the content of the 100-year-old student magazine Cherwell. The SU argues that the paper needs better editing because too many articles express ‘generally inaccurate and insensitive” opinions. That patronising and censorious approach to your fellow students is all bluff and bluster. Cherwell is an independent publication.

May 2021

Our Heroes for May are two university leaders.

Our first Hero is Professor Anthony Foster, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, who unequivocally apologised for no platforming at the University in response to an investigative report. He said:

“The report makes clear that we have made serious mistakes and we need to do our very best to learn from these and to ensure they are not repeated. The review notes the particular responsibility placed on universities to protect freedom of speech within the law, and to ensure that a diversity of voices and views can be heard on our campuses. On behalf of the University, I have issued an open apology to each of Professor Phoenix and Professor Freedman. [See The ‘Banned’ List December 2019 and January 2020]

I was deeply concerned to read the input into the review from some staff and students who said that they felt constrained to self-censor their speech and activity because of concerns about how we manage the balance between freedom of speech and our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. We must re-commit to providing a supportive and inclusive environment within which people can expect to learn, grow and develop through challenge. As a community this means that we may encounter ideas or arguments which may be experienced as objectionable or offensive; with a line drawn at conduct which is unlawful or contrary to the University’s policies. On behalf of the University, I am offering an open apology to staff and students regarding the procedural and other failings that have occurred in relation to the two events covered in the Reindorf Report, and for any distress caused.”

Our second Hero is Dr Michael Spence, the Provost of University College London (UCL). Spence responded to demands that the University make a statement on the conflict between Israel with a defence of university neutrality and academic freedom:

“…the university…is not a participant in public debate, but a forum in which that debate takes place. While our staff and students should loudly argue for their conceptions of truth and value, the university, as an institution, should refrain from doing so lest it chill the exercise of the ethical individualism of its staff and students.”

Our Zero is the University of Cambridge for putting the Report * Support tool on its website so that so that students could file anonymous reports ‘on ‘micro-aggressions’ – that included apparent offences such as raising an eyebrow, turning your back, giving backhanded compliments or referring to a woman as a girl’ Daily Mail 26 May. The aim was said to be to provide a safe and welcoming environment. The site was removed from the University site after complaints from academics. The tool is apparently available at 60% of universities – giving the lie to their rhetorical support for free speech.

April 2021

Our Hero for April is the Russell Group of top universities. Wary of disproportionate government intervention, they published a Russell Group Free Speech Statement on 22 April. The motivation for its publication may be suspect but the statement is welcome.

Our Zero of the month is Middlesex University for further abandoning institutional neutrality by formally rejecting the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Sewell Report). They said: ‘Middlesex University rejects the [Sewell Report] and its conclusions’, the University, ‘acknowledges the existence of systemic and institutional racism, particularly in higher education’. This is now a dogma. Free speech on this issue no longer exists at Middlesex.

March 2021

Our Hero is Keenan Clough – a student at the University of Liverpool who wrote and  presented an ‘Academic Freedom Charter’ to the Guild of Students. A referendum on the charter was planned between 8 March and 12 March but did not take place because it was held that the content of the Charter was covered by University and Guild policies and overlapped with existing policies and Bye-Laws

Our Zero is the University of Manchester. In the week preceding Mother’s Day, the BBC reported that the University had advised staff against using the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to avoid bias and assumption and encouraged the use of ‘gender-neutral terms such as ‘partner’ or ‘guardian’. There was a backlash on social media with many declaring this as part of a #WaronWomen and an insult to all mothers.

February 2021

Our Hero for February is Inaya Folarin Iman, who initiated the Free Speech Champions network that was then developed in collaboration with the Free Speech Union and the Battle of Ideas charity. “Inaya quickly formed a network of young people who share her passion for freedom and after long discussions and lots of late nights, the Free Speech Champions project was born”.

Our Zero is the Oriel College, University of Oxford, commission that is soon to set out how the statue of Cecil Rhodes, built into the wall of Oriel College, can be moved. This is opposed by Dons. One of whom, Professor Nigel Biggar, told The Times “The Rhodes statue in terms of the culture wars is iconic. If that goes, all manner of things will go”.

January 2021

Our first Heroes for January 2021 are Helen Pluckrose and colleagues who set up Counterweight – a citizen rights organisation to give ‘practical information and expert guidance to resist the imposition of the ideology that calls itself “Critical Social Justice” on your day-to-day life’.

Our second set of Heroes are the 2858 academics who signed an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Canagarajah of the University of Leicester to defend the teaching of Chaucer. they said: “We are dismayed to hear of the decision to make colleagues in the Department of English at the University of Leicester redundant, and to effectively dispense with research and teaching in Medieval and most Early Modern Literatures”. According to the Daily Mail, in place of Chaucer will be a new ‘ a selection of modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality and diversity, a decolonised curriculum, and new employability module’.

Our third set of Heroes are Daniel Jacobson, Peter Singer, Russell Blackford and the 422 other philosophers and academics who signed an open letter that rebutted the arguments that Professor Kathleen Stock’s views had caused any harm to trans people. The letter robustly defended academic inquiry:

Much academic research, including philosophy, engages with difficult and controversial subjects, and it is critical that this work be brought to bear on matters of real, imminent public concern. Sex-specific intimate spaces, athletics, medical services, and prisons have long been the norm in our societies and are represented in the very infrastructure in which we conduct our daily lives. Significant changes to these practices and norms are the kinds of things that our professional scholars must be able to discuss, without constant threat of public vilification.

Our first Zeros for January 2021 are the 600 philosophers who signed an open letter condemning the award of an OBE to Professor Kathleen Stock for her academic work and defence of free speech. The letter claimed she was ‘transphobic’ and her views ‘harmful’ to trans people. They were ‘…dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric’.

Our second Zeros are the hypersensitive, ‘woke’ academics at the University of York, who removed the traditional image of the three wise monkeys from a website incase it was deemed to be racist. The Sun said: ‘The image of the monkeys – known worldwide for centuries to mean seeing, hearing and speaking no evil – was pulled ahead of an art history conference’.

December 2020

Our Hero for the last month of 2020 is Professor Kathleen Stock OBE who Tweeted at 06.05 on 31 December:

“Honoured to have been given OBE for services to higher education. I want to use this opportunity to draw further attention to suppression of critical thought about gender identity ideology and trans activism in UK Universities”.

An OBE for free speech and intellectual integrity. Well done from the AFAF team!

Our Zeroes of the last month of 2020 are the academics, Priyamvada Gopal and Gavan Titley, who opined in the Guardian that the recent defence of free speech at Cambridge (see below) removes ‘the right of university members to justifiably remove platforms from speakers whose work is found to have been fraudulent, plagiarised, defamatory, or indeed, incompatible with an institution committed to an equal and inclusive environment’. In other words, any views the ‘woke’ find to be ‘discredited’ are to be ‘no platformed’.  Fortunately, there are signs that in 2021 academics and students will not be easily told which views they must conform to because they are said to be ‘credible’.

November 2020

Our Heroes of the month are Ross Anderson and Arif Ahmed, the fellows, and present and past students of the University of Cambridge who have opposed three clauses in the University’s new ‘free speech’ policy. One clause requires that all views must be treated with ‘respect’ rather than tolerance. The fellows and students demand the right to satirise and mock views they disagree with. (A ballot was held and the amendments defending free speech were carried.)

Our Zeros of the month are the woke, historically and linguistically illiterate students at the University of Manchester who want any negative use of the term ‘black’ removed from textbooks and lectures. This includes terms like ‘blackmail’, ‘blacklist’ and ‘black sheep’ claiming they were colonial terms. Lexicographer Jonathan Green told the Telegraph that these phrases were not borne from conscious racism, he said: “An aspect of current identity politics has indeed claimed an etymology that simply wasn’t there at the moment of coinage”.

October 2020

Our Hero of the month is Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford. In her Annual Oration to the University she stressed her commitment to free speech:

I am strongly committed to maintaining Oxford’s proud tradition of free speech and academic freedom of expression, modelling a society that is tolerant, open-minded, willing to listen even where it doubts or disapproves. There is no doubt that, where public discourse supports free speech within universities, we also uphold its value beyond the University: this is another crucial way in which Oxford contributes to the wider world”.

Our Zeros of the month are the education unions, the University and College Union (UCU), the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) who ignored the beheading of the French school teacher, Samuel Paty, by an Islamist terrorist for teaching a lesson on the value of free speech during which he showed his pupils Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammed.  Only the National Education Union (NEU) mentioned the murder of Paty but did not say that he was teaching about the value of free speech only that he was teaching about ‘human values’. This silence says how much UK’s education unions value free speech – not at all.

September 2020

Our Hero is law student Simeon Burke who overturned NUI Galway’s imposition of the ‘Community Promise’ asking students to ‘behave responsibly’. Simeon told the Irish Times: “I felt it undermined my rights as an NUI Galway student and threatened my freedom to think for myself”.

Our Zero is Sunny Singh, newly appointed Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts at London Metropolitan University. She Tweeted on 24 September: “I get regular invites to debate on various platforms. I always say no. Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression”.  ‘Only oppressors like a good debate’ is how Rod Liddle headed a section on Singh in his column in the Sunday Times. Singh’s Tweet exposed how the woke in the academy believe it is better if they gently tell you what to think.  PS She is not one of Titania McGrath’s creations.

August 2020

Our Heroes of the month are Philip Cunliffe and Lee Jones, the authors of a controversial report for the think tank CIEO on Saving Britain’s Universities. Their report includes a proposal to Enshrine Academic Freedom as the Foundational Principle of HE: ‘It is clear that academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus needs to be bolstered. Academic freedom is best defined as the ability of academics and students to teach, study, debate, pursue knowledge and conduct research free from political interference, public pressure, or institutional constraint, including the threat of disciplinary action or dismissal. This principle, which safeguards freedom of thought and speech on university campuses, is essential for the pursuit of knowledge and truth, and foundational to a free society. It should therefore be enshrined as the foundational principle of the new British university system.’  AFAF would welcome more discussion of this aspect of their report.

Our first Zero this month is NUI Galway for requiring all students and staff to sign a pledge to behave responsibly because of covid-19 concerns. If an individual is challenged they must ‘respond in an open, positive, and respectful manner – listening carefully to understand the concern, and changing my behaviour to remove it’. This is an authoritarian and infantilising demand that shows no respect for the intelligence or common sense of students or faculty.

Our second Zero is Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), who dismissed the findings of a  Policy Exchange report on Academic Freedom in the UK saying: ‘The idea that academic freedom is under threat is a myth.’ Grady is one of the many who are in denial about the attacks on academic freedom because they are committed to promoting social justice groupthink in universities rather than the pursuit of knowledge.

July 2020

Our Heroes of the month are Robert Halfon, chair of the Parliamentary Education Select Committee, who said that the cancellation of events by universities for security reasons was ‘disgraceful’ and the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, for stating that universities could be legally obliged to fund security for controversial speakers on campus in order to protect freedom of speech on campus. If followed through this would remove one excuse to ban speakers.

Our Zero of the month is Solent University for its treatment of Stephen Lamonby. Lamonby appeared on The Banned List because he was sacked for saying in a private conversation that Jewish people were among the cleverest in the world. His former University appears here for its appalling treatment of him in the sacking process. He told The Jewish Chronicle that he was “marched out in front of my students like a thief” by three women from the university’s HR department… [he] also revealed that his accuser, Dr Janet Bonar, another Solent lecturer, was not present at any of the disciplinary proceedings that took place before he was fired for “gross misconduct”.

June 2020

This Month’s Hero is Mike McCulloch (University of Plymouth) who went public, in the online magazine Unherd, about his pending disciplinary hearing because of two complaints that he had “liked posts saying ‘All lives matter’, ‘Gender has a scientific basis’ and ones opposed to mass immigration”. With help from the Free Speech Union the charges were dropped. There are many such cases in the ‘shadow university’ that we never hear about. AFAF will be reporting on many of these in the autumn.

This month’s Zero is Nottingham Trent University. ‘Professor Edward Peck, the Vice Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, recently stated that his institution is “considering” introducing compulsory modules in “unconscious bias and white privilege” for all students and staff’. AFAF is opposed to all mandatory training on controversial topics. Brainwashing is not the job of a university.

May 2020

Our Hero of the month is the University of Oxford. The University rejected a Student Union demand to ban what they labelled ‘academic hate speech’ (see below). The university gave this statement to The Oxford Blue: ‘Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth…  [a university] should never prevent speech that is lawful … Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive … The University must therefore foster freedom of expression within a framework of robust civility. Not all theories deserve equal respect … Wherever possible, they should also be exposed to evidence, questioning and argument … neither speakers nor listeners should have any reasonable grounds to feel intimidated or censored.’

Our Zero of the month is the University of Oxford Student Union for passing an ‘Academic Hate Speech Motion’ intended to establish a new policy prohibiting what they saw as ‘hate speech’ within the University. This would include anything they believed constituted ‘incitement of hatred on the grounds of gender identity, disability, and socio economic status, including to trans, non-binary, disabled, working-class, and women’. The Oxford Student reported that the motion also mandated the SU ‘to lobby for trigger warnings on readings lists and for lectures, tutorials, and examinations with content deemed prejudicial against the aforementioned groups to be non-compulsory for students. It asserts that arguments based on “free speech policy are inapplicable” when students are “required by the University to listen to the speech in question”.’

April 2020 (The Coronavirus Month when all universities were closed)

Our Heroes of the Month are the academics who write for The Full Brexit. They have maintained a much-needed critical voice about the politics that drive the response to the coronavirus.  

Our Zeros of the month are the University Hospitals, and other NHS trusts, that are forbidding staff to speak out about coronavirus issues.

March 2020

Our half Hero of the month is Toby Young of the Free Speech Union who wrote to the Proctors of the University of Oxford to protest against the de-platforming of Amber Rudd. This was a welcome move but the Proctors then de-registered (no platformed) the UNWomen Oxford UK Society. Young was wrong to celebrate this. A lesson for all defenders of free speech is not to call for, or condone, bans and proscriptions.

Our Zero of the month is the University of Sheffield Students’ Union that is attempting to gag the newly-formed free speech society by demanding that it seeks prior approval for all its events.

February 2020

Our first Hero of the month is Professor Karen Cox, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, who has stood firm against demands to cancel a lecture on Class to be given in March by Professor Selina Todd. Todd is accused of being a transphobe by eighty UKC Academics and dozens from other universities.

Our second Hero of the month is UCU for Academic Freedom (UCU4AF), a group of academics asking candidates in the UCU National Executive Elections to support academic freedom.

Our Zero of the month is what will be the new executive of the University and College Union (UCU). Many candidates for national office in the current round of elections stated in an open letter that trans issues should not be discussed in universities. They claimed that ‘free speech’ on these and other matters was a ‘transphobic’ and ‘neo-fascist’ conspiracy.

January 2020

The first Hero of the month is Julia Rynkiewicz, a midwifery student at the University of Nottingham, who fought against her suspension from her hospital placement because of complaints from academics about her pro-life views. She also faced a fitness to practice investigation.  Her suspension was overturned but she will now graduate a year behind her peers.  Laurence Wilkinson, legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom International, said that her experience “represents a very chilling prospect for freedom of speech on campus”.

The second Hero of the month is the Wilberforce Society, the UK’s oldest student society, based in Cambridge. The society sent its speaker, the comedian Konstantin Kisin, a free speech ‘Behavioural Agreement’ which could be a model for many student societies. As Kisin said on Facebook, “SOAS take note!” as he had refused to speak there a year earlier because of their censorious ‘agreement’. Here is an extract from the agreement:

This contract has been written to ensure an environment where all ideas can be put forward and fully criticised. By signing this contract, you are agreeing to our no tolerance policy with regards to lying to protect yourself or the audience, or hiding the truth for fear of being smeared.

All topics must be presented in a way that is honest and in good faith. No topics cannot be discussed. It must be done in a civil but completely honest way.

The First (absolute) Zero of the month is the University of Sheffield for employing 20 students at £9.34 an hour to police ‘microaggressions’. A ‘microaggression’ is speech that is so subtly offensive most people would think it is innocent or, at worst, just crass. One of the examples the University gives of this appalling speech is ‘Why are you searching for things to be offended about?’ The Vice-Chancellor, Koen Lamberts, claimed the plan was to start ‘conversations’ about race. Perhaps students and staff at the University should ask him and the language police just that: “Why are you searching for things to be offended about?”

The second Zero of the month is Merton College, University of Oxford, for requiring attendees at a forthcoming ‘Equality Conversation’ event to: “refrain from using language or putting forward views intended to undermine the validity of trans and gender diverse identities”. After academics expressed concerns about academic freedom the College replaced the censorious statement with a declaration about free speech.

December 2019

The Hero for December is Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex. Stock responded to an Employment Tribunal ruling that upheld Maya Forstater’s dismissal, from the Centre for Global Development, for repeatedly expressing the view that people can’t change sex.  Writing in Medium on 18 December she attacked the decision as a threat to free thought and to philosophical thinking in particular.  She said:

I therefore call upon the British Philosophical Association, all learned Philosophical societies in the UK, and all British academic philosophers working in UK departments, to stand up and say out loud — or better, write it down where members of the public can read it: people should be legally permitted to believe that biological sex is immutable and cannot be changed, without fear of losing their jobs. You are philosophers. This is your moment. If not now, then when?

The Zero is the University of York after the head of the English department apologised to students who were offended when they came across the word ‘negro’ in lectures about the work of the African- American sociologist W. E. B. Dubois and the Martiniquian anti-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon.  She suggested a trigger warning be given to disassociate lecturers from the views they were discussing. Sociologist Professor Frank Furedi commented: “The obsession with the policing of language has become a caricature of itself. The word negro, which was used by pan-Africanists to refer to themselves, is now rebranded as a source of distress by students who do not have a clue about what racism means”.

November 2019

The Hero of the month has to be Maya Nerissa Thomas, an undergraduate student reading history at the University of Oxford, who set up the Oxford Society for Free Discourse. She was interviewed about her views in The Oxford Student. Maya joins a growing list of students such as Peter Anson, the founder of Liberate the Debate, who are setting up free speech societies to counter the chilling of free speech on campus.

The Zero of the Month is Oxford Brookes University which cancelled a talk by feminist artist Rachel Ara after a complaint by students denouncing her as a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF). Ara appears on The Banned List but Brookes gets a special mention here for the bureaucratic way it avoided the charge of censorship according to the Oxford Mail: “The university has taken the decision to postpone a lecture as it had not been booked through the usual process for confirming external speakers. Postponement will allow appropriate time to ensure this process takes place”. Such manoeuvres exemplify how universities engage in institutional denial of the climate of censorship on campus.

October 2019

Hero number one is Professor Elizabeth Kiss, an American philosopher and former Rhodes scholar, who became warden of Rhodes House, Oxford in August 2019. She is responsible for Rhodes scholarships but, according to The Times, Professor Kiss refused to change the scheme name in response to student demands. She said: “If we change the name what do we gain? The legacy is still there. You are just running away from it. All of us, not just Rhodes scholars, are products and beneficiaries of very morally complex legacies. In bearing the name Rhodes scholars are challenged continually to confront that and engage with it”.

The second Hero is sociologist Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University, Dundee. Dr Waiton argued on Sky News, that the revulsion about Nazi salutes at a football match had turned into a moral panic. His university ‘distanced’ itself from his comments and he was vilified on social media as a racist, a fascist and a white supremacist. Dr Waiton did not capitulate to threats and abuse but continued to explain his position in the press.  

Zero number one is the Oxford University Student Union which voted to ‘mandate the encouragement of silent clapping’ of ‘jazz hands’ at union events to avoid ‘triggering’ vulnerable students.  Writing in the Daily Mail, Emeritus Professor Frank Furedi, a distinguished sociologist, warned: ‘Some might dismiss ‘jazz hands’ as nothing more than the kind of frivolous, attention-seeking behaviour to which student unions have always resorted. But the situation is far worse. The Oxford policy is important because it symbolises our culture’s slide into infantalised decadence, where enfeeblement is celebrated and learned helplessness indulged’. Furedi argued that academic freedom will be undermined if people continue to see students as potential victims in need of safeguarding rather than as resilient adults.

The second Zero is Sheffield Students’ Union which banned white students from attending focus groups on ‘How we can create an anti-racist Students’ Union’. This act of censorship was said to be a move from being ‘non-racist to actively anti-racist’ but was widely condemned as being itself an example of racism and an attack on the academic freedom of undergraduates.  

(Illustration by H. C. Selous (1886) Thersites accosts Achilles from Troilus and Cressida, in Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare. In the public domain.)

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