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An Oxford tale - another sad day on British campuses

Tom Winnifrith
Thursday 7 September 2017

Yesterday it was free speech denial at Edinburgh. Today it is my old place, Oxford, that serves up a tale which just leaves it as an object of ridicule. It started with the Vice Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson who, rather foolishly, suggested that students who are upset with their tutors for expressing views against homosexuality should “challenge” them, rather than reporting their tutors to university authorities.

It was foolish because it is almost inconceivable that a tutor would express such a view. In my day about 90% of the Dons at Oxford were Guardian reading left leaners who would not have had a bad thing to say about the gays. The oppressed minority were right wing Dons about half of whom very obviously old Queens themselves and most of the other half were pretty tolerant on social issues. Frankly there was more chance of a tutor making a gay advance on you than of him expressing a dim view of the pooftahs. If anything there will be fewer of those nasty right wingers allowed to teach today

So Prof Richardson opines about a hypothetical but incredibly unlikely situation. Maybe there is the odd Rees Mogg type devout Catholic who takes a dim view of gays but Oxford really is a very tolerant place when it comes to pooftahs, if not to we evil capitalists and conservatives. And in making her remarks surely the Vice Chancellor must have known that she would face mass condemnation. Sure enough, across Oxford folks are rushing to sign a petition condemning the Prof.

Richardson's wider point, that snowflake millennials should engage in robust debate and grow thicker skins, is a valid one. As if to prove that very point the Students Union ( not to be confused with The Oxford Union where posh Tory boys engage in pointless debate) has offered up a counselling service to any LGBT folks who have been traumatised by Prof Richardson's remarks and also warned that her comments will deter LGBT students from applying to Oxford. That statement is based on no factual evidence at all and is so ludicrous as to invite ridicule. Will folks really opt to apply to inferior places because of this one comment? The assertion is bollocks. As to the counselling....

In my day LGBT students faced active homophobia. They lived in a climate where AIDS caused terror and also prejudice. And when, to her eternal shame, Lady Thatcher had introduced the pernicious clause 28 of the Local Government Act. It was really tough being gay. It is no surprise to me that folks who were gay often waited until well after leaving Oxford before coming out. That has all changed in wider society but especially in uber liberal places such as Oxford University. Yet, quite pathetic, young folks need counselling to deal with one remark....while the unwise author of that remark is told that she cannot suggest that opinions should be challenged rather than just gagged or driven underground.

I despair at another pathetic punctuation mark in the story of the remorseless decline of British Higher education.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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