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Vice Chancellors must promote free speech, says the Government

The Universities minister, Michelle Donelan, has told Vice-Chancellors that they must not just protect, but must actively promote freedom of speech. She further warned them, “not to be on the wrong side of history.”

Campus chiefs will no longer be allowed to “shy away” from the “real threat” to academic freedom now that ministers are tackling it, “like never before,” the minister said. They must instead create “a culture change” to end the increase “in physical threats and complete intolerance of opposing ideas.” She further suggested that this subject was endangering democracy, and risking a drop in world university rankings. The minister warned that “warm words and gentle prodding hasn’t worked so far, so that’s why we need legislative action” to ensure universities are a “fortress of ideas.”

In the Government’s new “academic freedom” bill, which is in an advanced stage in Parliament, universities and students’ unions face fines of £500,000 - or 2 per cent of their income - if they fail to uphold free speech duties.

Ms Donelan said, “too often, university leadership turns a blind eye” to an “intolerant mob”, and singled out the “deplorable” campaign against Professor Kathleen Stock. She quit Sussex University last year in both a trans row and a matter involving the alleged hounding of the Israeli ambassador by LSE students. “This intolerant few have decided that protecting people from offence is more important than advancing human knowledge … Let me take a moment to inform the intolerant few – their brief period of power is over,” she added.

At a Policy Exchange event in London, Ms Donelan addressed vice-chancellors and staff and said: “Do not be on the wrong side of history. Do not allow the history books to record your name as part of the small cabal of the intolerant.” She said, “universities won’t just have to protect free speech, they will have to promote it”, and will receive extensive guidance from a new free speech champion in the Office for Students.

Through a new legal tort, which has seemingly been welcomed by scholars, the new Bill will give academics and students a direct route for compensation if they are censored or silenced.


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