Durham Uni’s former top donor says he won’t give a penny more until unis protect free speech

Mark Hillery has donated £7 million to Durham and is well known among Collingwood students for putting his card behind the bar

Durham University’s former top donor has announced he won’t donate any more money to universities until “they get their free speech house properly in order”.

Former Collingwood alumnus, Mark Hillery is well known among students not least for having an Arts Centre named after him but also for placing his card behind the college bar, giving Collingwood students free drinks all night.

Between 2015 and 2021, he donated more than £7 million to Durham University. In February he said he would no longer make any donations to Durham because of its “ridiculous and ineffective” Covid policies and failure to fully return to in-person teaching.

Today, speaking to The Telegraph, Hillery says he won’t make a donation to any university in the UK saying: “Many universities have profound and virtuous-sounding mission statements relating to the protection of free speech. But these are currently little more than hollow lip service and bear little resemblance to reality on the ground.

“Inaction is no longer an option, for the sake of the sort of society, we wish to pass on to our children.”

Rather than making any donation to a university, the retired hedge fund manager has instead pledged £400,000 to the Free Speech Union. The union describes itself as a “non-partisan, mass-membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members”.

On its website, the union calls on lecturers who have been “no-platformed by a university”, singling out  “feminist professors who challenge trans orthodoxy” to “fight back”. It also tells students who are being investigated by their university, the union may “take up your case”.

A Durham University spokesman said: “Our policy statement and our Code of Practice on Freedom of Expression are robust, and set out clear expectations and processes for activities affiliated to, funded by, or branded as Durham University.
“To our knowledge, we are not aware of a single occasion where a speaker has not been invited to speak at the university due to controversial views.”

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