Vice-Chancellor slams safe-space culture

Louise Richardson speaks out against “cosseted” middle-class students’ “echo chamber” environments

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Picture: Alan Richardson Dundee Pix-Ar.co.uk

Oxford Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson has hit out at the “cosseted” culture of university ‘safe-spaces’ and ‘no platform’ policies.

In an interview for the Irish Times, Richardson said: “It may be that middle-class children have been too cosseted by their professional parents.

“It may be in part accentuated in social media where we tend to operate within an echo chamber of like-minded people,” she said.

This reflects comments made by the Vice-Chancellor last year, in which she called on students to engage with ideas they don’t agree with.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph after her appointment as the University’s highest-ranking executive officer in January 2016, she said: “We need to expose our students to ideas that make them uncomfortable so that they can think about why it is that they feel uncomfortable and what it is about those ideas that they object to.”

In the Irish Times interview Richardson also expressed concerns over the impact of Brexit on Oxford University. She described the University’s academic staff as “eminently poachable” as a result of Britain’s planned exit from the EU.

According to the Oxford University statement on Brexit, 18 per cent of Oxford’s staff and 16 per cent of its students are from the EU.

An Irish national, she revealed that she had applied for a British passport before the EU referendum last year.

“To be perfectly honest I started the process of applying for British citizenship in anticipation of Brexit because I thought it could be difficult if I found myself as Vice- Chancellor of Oxford without the right to remain,” she said.

Richardson’s comments come after Oxford University was deemed a “hostile environment for free speech” by the online politics magazine Spiked in February.

The magazine cited OUSU’s ban of pro-life groups and the prevention of the student magazine No Offence from being handed out at the 2015 freshers’ fair as its justification.

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In a statement, the University said that it considers freedom of speech to be “the lifeblood of a university”.

In March, Universities Minister Jo Johnson wrote a letter to be disseminated to all universities outlining his desire to restrict censorship.

Johnson said: “The government proposes to raise the issue of freedom of speech, with a view to ensuring that a principle underscoring the importance of free speech in higher education is given due consideration.”