Oxford ignores call to censor ‘ism’ texts The Times 05.05.20

Sorry I accidentally circulated this one by email. The original article is here.

Oxford University has dismissed a call from students to drop “ableist, transphobic, classist and misogynistic content” from its reading lists.

It said it accepted that some students would find certain views “unsettling, extreme or offensive” but insisted that free speech within the bounds of the law was the “lifeblood” of the university.

The Oxford University Student Union voted for a policy that transgender, working-class and female students needed more protection and urged the university to give faculties guidance and make more use of trigger warnings.

The motion, proposed by Alex Illsley, co-chairman of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ campaign, stated that there were multiple examples of “ableist, transphobic, classist and misogynistic content” on reading lists. He cited an article advocating that it should be a moral duty not to have disabled children, which was included on a medical law and ethics reading list, and one “advocating for the murder of disabled children after they have been born”.

The university issued a statement saying there would be no changes as a result of the motion. “[There are] no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics,” it said. It referred to its policy on free speech, adding: “Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but 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.”

Academics ridiculed the motion on Twitter. Richard Dawkins, an emeritus fellow of New College, called the motion juvenile nonsense. “So history students can’t read up on women’s suffrage, or the rise of Nazism or Apartheid, theology students can’t read [the] Bible or Koran? The racism of just about everyone who ever lived before these privileged juveniles were born?” he said. “Listen, if you don’t know what a university is for, please leave Oxford and make way for those who do.”

Students said the motion did not reflect their views. Fred Spierings, a classics student at Worcester College, called it “a ridiculous euphemism” used by the union to “silence anyone who doesn’t agree with their absurdly politically correct views”.

He said it was patronising to claim that minority groups could not fend for themselves. “The only thing that truly needs protection at Oxford is freedom of speech and diversity of thought,” he said.