Oxford refuses to drop ‘transphobic’ and ‘misogynistic’ texts from reading lists

Free speech is the ‘lifeblood’ of the university, Oxford says

University of Oxford has turned down a proposal from its Students’ Union requesting a new “Academic Hate Speech Motion”. The motion asks for the current university policy on academic free speech to be amended so that people who are disabled, from working class backgrounds, women, trans and non-binary can “receive equivalent protection from hateful speech within University contexts as groups which are protected by the criminal law”.

Currently, the university’s policy on academic hate speech protects most academic speech that is considered “lawful”. The proposed motion argues that this is not enough, asking instead to “ensure that trans and non-binary people, women, and disabled people receive equivalent protection from hateful speech within University contexts as groups which are protected by the criminal law”.

The motion also calls for trigger warnings on any reading lists on courses and for any lectures, tutorials and exams with content that would be deemed prejudiced to be made non-compulsory for those who would not like to engage in that content.

The SU says that any courses that contain prejudicial content should be revised, such as the FHS Medical Law and Ethics course that has articles on its reading list that were deemed ableist, saying that articles advocated for “the moral duty not to have disabled children”.

The motion has encouraged a lot of backlash from University of Oxford academics, including Richard Dawkins and Jonathan Herring.

Dawkins went into a Twitter rant, saying “if you don’t know what a university is for, please leave Oxford & make way for those who do.” After this article from the Oxford Blue, Dawkins went on to say that the Student Union’s motion was “infantile garbage”.

Professor Jeff McMahan told the Oxford Blue that “the SU motion is a grave mistake” and Professor Julian Savulescu, who wrote the article on disabled children from the Medical Law and Ethics reading list, told the Oxford Blue that “hate speech is a very strong allegation”, believing the SU are calling more for “censorship” than removal of hate speech.

Jonathan Herring, a lecturer on the FHS Medical Law and Ethics course, told The Oxford Student that he “disagrees with the arguments” in the aforementioned article but that “it is only by reading the views of those we disagree with that we can show how weak their arguments are.”

The University of Oxford have sided with their academics, telling The Telegraph that there were currently no plans to move forward with the motion and “censor any reading materials assigned by academics.” They acknowledged that students may find the content “unsettling, extreme or offensive” but that free speech remains the “lifeblood” of the university.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Oxford Uni bans clapping for jazz hands to stop people being triggered

Oxford Uni to begin human trials for new coronavirus vaccine this week

Geography degrees are ‘soft option for posh but dim’ people, says Oxford professor