Cambridge has the biggest free speech fight in the UK

Incoming leaders at Cambridge University could immediately join a free speech queue, with many academics opposing a new “mutual respect” policy.

With the Times Higher Education logo, a red T, purple H and blue E.A consultation was held on the second draft of a document aimed at “preventing inappropriate behavior in the workplace” with a new grievance policy as well as an outline of how grievances would be dealt with.

Although both documents emphasize that they should be read together with the university’s free speech statement, critics say they represent management which seeks to limit speech outside its legal responsibilities.

“I have no doubt that these proposals are well-intentioned, but it is not the place of any university to restrict speech outside the law. Universities are there for free discussion of ideas; They are not finishing school for group thinkers, ”said Arif Ahmed, a university philosophy reader.

The policy aims to “create a safe, welcoming and inclusive community that nurtures a culture of mutual respect and courtesy” and states that “there is no room for intimidation, harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct or victimization ৷ our community.”

But Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge, said the word “honor” was a misnomer, especially since the term was removed from a free speech statement in favor of “tolerant” after a vote in the university’s governing body, the Regent House. .

“It is unreasonable to expect atheists to respect the views of religious believers or to expect climate change workers to respect the work of geologists who are trying to make mining or oil drilling more efficient or to respect the law of social justice preachers.” Professors who advise banks on how to avoid regulation. What is reasonable is to expect university members to treat each other with tolerance and courtesy, “said Anderson.

He added that the draft policy “reads as if it were adapted from a corporate HR manual” and does not consider the complexities of the university’s structure, which includes the Emeritus staff and visiting professors as well as those who work directly for the colleges.

He said the policy could only be practically applicable to regular employees such as hourly staff and researchers, and not to university officials whose disciplinary system is subject to law, or students, because a separate system for discipline exists, mainly run by colleges.

Visitors, suppliers and others are expected to comply with the Code of Conduct as described in the policy, but Anderson said it is unclear how this will be implemented in practice.

Ahmed added that he had “serious concerns” about the compulsory training material that would be introduced to all staff in areas such as diversity, which he claimed was “proven financially.”

An earlier version of the same document was withdrawn in May 2021, and shortly thereafter, Vice Chancellor Stephen Tupp announced his resignation. He will be replaced on an interim basis in October by Anthony Freeling, Hughes Hall, the outgoing president of Cambridge, just as the final versions of the new policy are expected to come to the Regent’s House for a vote.

While free speech may be a key feature of Frilling’s short six-month term, the government is seeking to pass its Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

A spokesman for Cambridge said the policy was clear that it could not be used to undermine the university’s statement on freedom of speech and that the matter had been emphasized to those concerned.

“Universities in general have policies that govern the behavior of university staff. These are reviewed from time to time, and this update is subject to a university-wide consultation aimed at understanding a wide range of perspectives, ”he added.

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