Students Staff
University of Essex

December 9, 2019

Upholding academic freedom and promoting inclusivity

Last week a seminar involving an external speaker invited to talk about trans rights and justice was cancelled at short notice by the organising department, as a result of their concerns about safety. Our policy on academic freedom and freedom of speech is very clear, and states: “Just as the University will not restrict debate or deliberation simply because the views being expressed might be considered unwise or even offensive, so it also expects members of the University community to show commitment to this same principle by not obstructing or interfering with the rights of others to express views with which they might disagree profoundly.”

We also have an equally clear commitment to being an inclusive community and our policies are set out in our Equality and Diversity Codes of Practice with our Equality and Diversity Policy Statement affirming: “The University of Essex celebrates diversity, challenges inequality and is committed to sustaining an inclusive and diverse community that is open to all who have the potential to benefit from membership of it and which ensures equality of opportunity for all its members.”

We have well-established procedures in place to reflect these values and govern events with speakers from outside the University, so it is very important that we understand what happened in this case and what lessons we should draw.

Accordingly, I have commissioned a review of the circumstances that resulted in the event being cancelled. We will appoint a suitably experienced person to lead this review.

They will be asked to:

  • Assemble and review the facts;
  • Assess how University policies and procedures have been applied on this occasion;
  • Identify any recommendations in relation to University policy and practice that arise from this incident;
  • Provide any other observations that the reviewer would want to draw to the attention of the University’s Senate and Council.

The report will be considered by our Senate meeting on Wednesday 29 April and Council on Monday 18 May, with any urgent issues being highlighted earlier should that be necessary.

I hope the review will give us complete confidence in our processes for upholding academic freedom and promoting freedom of speech within the law, in a context of being an inclusive community.

If you do have comments or observations that you would like to share please email: review@essex.ac.uk

Once the review is underway we will also ensure that there are other opportunities to engage our community on these issues that matter to us all.