Oxford University has ‘allowed political diversity to wither’

Sir Noel Malcolm, a senior research fellow at All Souls, said: “It’s very troubling to think that someone appointed to promote ‘diversity’ has such a narrow concept of what diversity is.

“At a university, one of the most important forms of diversity is diversity of opinion.

“Students will never learn the basic habits of respectful argument, on objective grounds, with people whose views differ from their own, if they are encouraged to think that the best way to deal with such people is just to silence them.”

Yuan Yi Zhu, a tutor at Harris Manchester College, said: “Given the recent freedom of speech and academic freedom controversies at the University of Oxford, it is worrying that one of the university’s senior administrators seems to take the view that political speech, however unpopular, can and should be suppressed in this manner.”

Toby Young, the director of the Free Speech Union, said Mr Scott had rejected “diversity” by choosing to offer his backing to “tinpot authoritarians determined to silence dissent”.

He said: “Shouldn’t a champion of diversity at Britain’s oldest university be championing diversity of thought instead of cheering on tinpot authoritarians determined to silence dissent?

“I suggest he reads his employer’s own free speech policy, which is extremely good.”

‘Advocating the suppression of free speech’

Prof Matt Goodwin, who attended the conference, said: “What this shows is how intolerant many people within the elite universities really are.

“I find it deeply troubling that somebody whose role is supposedly to promote equality and inclusivity at one of our most prestigious universities is also advocating the suppression of free speech, simply because he happens to disagree with the views being expressed.

“This is the complete opposite of what we should be exposing our universities to, which is generous, vigorous debate.”

The Office for Students (OfS) said it could not comment on individual cases but plans to launch a new free speech complaints procedure on Aug 1.

Arif Ahmed, the higher education regulator’s director for freedom of speech and academic freedom, has previously vowed to make sure universities are places where “debates can be conducted in a vigorous and free way”.

The University of Oxford distanced itself from Mr Scott’s remarks, saying they “do not represent the views of the university”.

“The University of Oxford has a robust freedom of speech policy that applies within the university context stating that all lawful voices or views should be given a hearing,” a spokesman said.

“These views were expressed by a member of staff but in their personal capacity about a non-university event.”

Mr Scott was approached for comment.

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