UCL Provost Michael Spence says students need to be taught how to ‘disagree well’

Dr Spence, back at it again

UCL’s Provost and President, Dr Michael Spence, has made a statement claiming that if universities want to promote free speech on campus, they need to teach students how to discuss controversial topics “politely”. This comes days after the Russell Group released a statement underlining its commitment to free speech.

Speaking with the Telegraph, Dr Spence argued that “we have forgotten about how to disagree well”, saying that it is the responsibility of universities to “model and to teach students how to disagree well across sometimes quite profound barriers of disagreement”.

Back in March during an interview with Times Radio, Dr Spence claimed that his belief in free speech is so strong that he would allow a Holocaust denier to speak to students. In the interview, Dr Spence stated:

“We would have anybody to speak who was invited by an academic or by a student so long as the speech was lawful and there weren’t going to be public order problems that we couldn’t control or whatever.”

If a Holocaust denier were invited to speak the university “would have a responsibility to make sure its Jewish and other students were looked after, that the event took place in an environment in which other views were expressed.”

Understandably, Dr Spence received backlash for his statement and later apologised for it, stating:

“I fully acknowledge the emotional impact that Holocaust denial has on Jewish and other members of the community. I will do my upmost to ensure UCL remains the kind of place in which such a speaker would never be invited.

“I apologise if my response could be understood as suggesting otherwise.”

In his latest remarks on the topic of free speech, Dr Spence said that it is necessary for students to practice “the norms of disagreeing well, not making an enemy of other people, trying to work out where there is common ground”, which he claims are the “core intellectual skills” that “universities have a fundamental role in teaching”.

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