University of Buckingham praised for championing free speech

Vice-chancellor has called for legal protection for academics who are harassed by staff or students due to views they express.

By Hannah Richardson
Monday, 7th February 2022, 5:18 pm

The University of Buckingham has been praised in Parliament for championing free speech, after Greg Smith MP called on the Universities Minister to support new rules put forward by vice-chancellor James Tooley.

Speaking in the universities debate in the House of Commons last week, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of higher education and this government will not allow the continued self-censorship of individuals facing negative repercussions for lawfully expressed views, which is why our Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties.”

MP for Buckingham Greg Smith said: “The University of Buckingham in my constituency has twice topped the charts for the university with the least restrictions on free speech and under the outstanding leadership of Vice Chancellor Professor James Tooley proposals have now been drawn up according to new laws to ensure academics can sue an institution using the complaints scheme if it fails to protect them from targeted campaigns of harassment related to their academic freedom."

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Prof James Tooley, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham

And he asked: "Will my Hon Friend work with me to make that new protection a reality?”

Michelle Donelan replied: “I welcome the University of Buckingham continuing to champion free speech.

"Our Free Speech Bill contains exactly that sort of measure to further protect individuals who are being harassed for expressing their lawful views.”

Prof Tooley has called for the new bill to include rules offering protection to academics who are harassed by staff or students, including facing disciplinary action, because of views they express.

Greg Smith MP

The amendment to the bill to be tabled in the Lords comes in the wake of the furore over former Sussex University academic Kathleen Stock feeling she had no choice but to stand down because of abuse she received over her controversial views on trans women.

If the proposed change goes ahead, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill would ensure that academics can sue an institution if it fails to protect academics from targeted campaigns of harassment by staff or students or if the university fails to take steps, including disciplinary measures, to mitigate the effects of such campaigns.