To the management of South College and Durham University,
We, the Cambridge Branch of the University and College Union, stand in solidarity with Durham University students and staff who were recently subjected to a transphobic, racist and misogynist speech by Rod Liddle at Durham University’s South College Christmas dinner. We stand with the students who chose to leave in protest before or during the dinner and were then verbally attacked by the principal and his wife. We support the open letter by Durham Intersectional Feminism Society, Durham LGBT+ Association, Durham University Labour Club, and Durham Womxn’s Association .
Tim Luckhurst used his position as principal to invite a controversial speaker who used an after-dinner speech to be intentionally provocative through bigoted statements in a forum where students were unable to challenge the speaker. The event was not an academic debate but a convivial evening where students were forced to sit through a deeply offensive speech in silence, having received no advanced notice of who the speaker would be. This a clear abuse of institutionalised power structures that have a long history of harm. We affirm Cambridge UCU’s own motion on free speech, which states that “the right to object to and protest against invited speakers and the positions they represent is itself an exercise of free speech.” We extend our solidarity to the students who left the venue for being completely within their rights to leave the event in protest, and also to the students and staff who felt they could not leave.
We call on Durham University to implement its own Freedom of Expression policy which states that the university has an overriding duty to protect students and staff from harm:
Freedom of expression has to be set in the context of the University’s values and the values of a democratic and inclusive society. The University expects all its members and visitors to respect those values and to be sensitive to its diverse and inclusive community, and the University recognises its duty to promote good campus relations under the terms of the Equality Act. The University must ensure that its staff and students are able to work, study and live in an environment free from unlawful intimidation, harassment or abuse.
We therefore support the demands of the Durham student bodies and the Durham UCU and wish to see appropriate action – up to and including appropriate disciplinary action – taken by the management of South College and Durham University.
University of Cambridge UCU Executive Committee