University of Buckingham holds Free Speech conference

Speakers call for change in the law to enable academics to speak out.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 3:24 pm
University of Buckingham vice-chancellor, James Tooley

The University of Buckingham has held a conference on free speech, with speakers calling for the law to change to enable academics to speak out without fear of being disciplined by their institutions or no-platformed at events.

Academics, lawyers, government figures and those passionate about free speech joined the online event, run in partnership with lawyers Taylor Vitner, on Friday, March 19, aimed at moving forward the debate on academic freedom in order to decide what are the next steps needed, such as changes in the law.

Vice-chancellor James Tooley kicked off the debate, underlining the need to safeguard academic freedom and freedom of speech.

One of the conference co-organisers, James Murray, a Research Fellow for the university's Humanities Research Institute, said: “We discussed the threats faced by academic freedom both at home and from abroad and possible changes to policy and law to mitigate such threats.

"We talked about the further protections that may be needed - particularly in response to the influence of autocratic regimes such as China.”

Also under discussion was the threats faced by feminists who have tried to express their views.

Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex who has been attacked for her views on transphobia, claimed that universities are not standing up for free speech because competition for students has made them reluctant to defend lecturers who say things students do not like.

Prof Stock criticised universities for “capitulating” to demands to change course materials because of students’ claims that they made them feel “unsafe”.

She said: “Universities are under strong pressure to recruit students and they become risk averse when it comes to promoting or being seen to support conclusions that the student applicants do not like, so they worry that any solid defence of academic freedom will be misunderstood as a defence of the views themselves.”

The conference also heard from Canadian professor Eric Kaufmann, who revealed that two senior British conservative academics said they lost their jobs because they admitted to voting for Brexit.

Prof Kaufmann showed data revealing that many academics have faced disciplinary action for airing their views.