Cambridge University dons have prevailed in a free speech row after voting down an attempt by university chiefs to force them to be “respectful of the diverse identities of others”.
Cambridge University’s Council proposed a series of updates to free speech rules earlier this year, but academics have argued that the changes are “authoritarian”. Critics said the changes were “no doubt meant well” but the vague nature of their wording meant that they could be used to undermine academics’ freedom of speech rather than protect it.
A group of academics managed to force a ballot on a series of amendments including that the phrase “respectful of” is replaced with “tolerate”.
Dr Arif Ahmed, a fellow at Gonville and Caius and lecturer in philosophy who wrote the amendments, said: “I had always thought, and this has confirmed my suspicions, that the vast majority of academics are totally committed to the most robust kind of free speech, and have no time for no platforming or shutting anyone down.”
He said that had the university’s free speech rules, had they passed in their original form, would have had grave consequences for academics.
“One short-term fear was that by having a code that demands our research, teaching and writing respects the identities of others, people would engage in a kind of self censorship,” Dr Ahmed told The Telegraph.
“We might feel more reluctant to invite a controversial speaker or visiting professor or do our own research that disrespect other people's identities. The longer term concern I had is that future management might use the ‘respect’ clause as a way to discipline or perhaps even fire academics.”
The university’s vice-Chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope, said he welcomed the vote which he described as “an emphatic reaffirmation of free speech”.