Oxford SU “angered and dismayed” by vice-chancellor homophobia comments

Richardson, who earns £350,000 a year, said that it wasn't her job to make students "feel comfortable"

Louise Richardson earns £350,000 as Oxford's vice-chancellor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Louise Richardson, the Oxford vice-chancellor, has come under fire from Oxford Students Union (SU) for comments regarding homophobia at the University.

Richardson, who also attacked “tawdry politicians” for the handling of the dispute around her pay level, suggested that students cannot be offended on University campuses.

Speaking at the Times Higher Education summit, Richardson said: “I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views.

“And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable’.

“If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that.

“Work out how you can persuade him to change his mind. It is difficult, but it is absolutely what we have to do.”

The Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign has today criticised her comments saying that they were “angered and dismayed” by the remarks.

Mentioning the high levels of discrimination that LGBTQ+ individuals can suffer at university, and within the country, they accused the vice-chancellor of “furthering an environment which makes LGBTQ+ people feel more unwelcome in Oxford.”

They added that while they “recognise that individuals are entitled to personal views and opinions, we see no way in which these are relevant to an academic context, and believe that the expression of such views has detrimental effects which go far beyond making students feel ‘uncomfortable’.

“This is hardly the conduct one would expect in an individual, tasked with ensuring that all members of this University are able to thrive. These attitudes are a failure to recognise the very real impact of homophobic views on both academic success and personal well being, and we hope that she, and others, will consider the issue with more nuance in future.”

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The vice-chancellor’s comments have sparked considerable debate online, with many students and JCRs expressing outrage.

In an open letter to the vice-chancellor, Wadham SU said her comments could “legitimise and normalise homophobia from academics and staff.”

It added: “We believe such a comment sends a bad message to LGBTQ+ students, and all students who have faced harassment and discrimination.

“Moreover, the comments made will discourage students from approaching their senior tutor in college when faced with discrimination from tutors, something that we already struggle to encourage students to do.

“Of course we want to encourage free speech and open discussion but to put the burden of challenging homophobic viewpoints on LGBTQ+ students is unfair and dangerous to the mental well being of those students.”

Hertford College JCR, in an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Richardson, said her comments were “of considerable concern to us, as we are of the view that homophobia has no place in Oxford or indeed our wider society.

“Although we do agree with the right to free speech, and acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of views expressed by those at the University, we want to make it clear that we feel there is a point at which ‘uncomfortable’ comments become hateful language.

“We must therefore wholeheartedly reject any notion that views against homosexuality have acceptable grounds within academic conversation.”

Oxford SU took a similar approach, offering advice to those who had been impacted by the comments.

Student Union President, Kate Cole, was more explicit in her criticism of the statement.

Richardson also drew criticism from those outside of Oxford with Dawn Foster, a Guardian columnist, and Charlotte L. Riley, a historian at the University of Southampton, both attacking the comments.

An open letter addressed to the vice chancellor has been launched.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Substitute ‘homosexual with ‘black’ and then see how ‘comfortable’ that makes you feel. This is outrageous. Typical that its happening at the pinnacle of priviledged society. These people really think they should have no contsraints.

  2. So what was the actual comment from the professor originally?

    I doubt the VC would defend outright homophobia?

    This needs some proper context.

    • Whether she specifically stated a view or not isn’t the problem, the problem is that homophobia is happening and she isn’t doing anything about it. She is defending it, as well as allowing it to happen.

  3. I’m gay myself and I support the vice-chancellor’s views. Censoring any debate about homosexuality and homophobia does harm to gay people like myself since it doesn’t offer an opportunity to expose those with homophobic views and give them an opportunity to reconsider their position. I actually find it extremely patronising that gay people need to be protected against certain views. I’m sorry but some of us happen to be freethinking adults and not children. You’re at university to learn, be exposed to different ideas and debate them, not to be mollycoddled. This is the reason I find the left so unbearable these days with this constant offended culture.

  4. So, according to those “offended”, anyone that holds a different view on homosexuality, such as the majority of the World’s muslims, should not be allowed to express this view when in their company? I could claim to be uncomfortable when in the company of Blairites, however I have no wish to seek a ‘safe space’ and welcome the opportunity to debate.

  5. “I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views…And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable…If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that…Work out how you can persuade him to change his mind. It is difficult, but it is absolutely what we have to do.”

    ‘Queer bashing’ (I don’t like the term ‘homophobia’), however much it is dressed up in academic discourse or touting the notion that it should simply be challenged through the application of academically rigourous argument is bizarre. This is not a debate about the ‘Nature of the Universe’ or the ‘Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man’. This is about the lived reality of people’s lives under conditions of oppression and stress. Protection through equal rights rules and legislation is not about being ‘mollycoddled’. Equal rights are about clearing the pathway to an even playing field. Clearly Vice Chancellor Richardson takes the conservative view and does not believe in equal rights. I can’t see that academic attainment will be enhanced in conditions of perpectual insecurity and hostility that the absence of robust policies to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination and harassment will bring about. I fully defend the right to free speech but not at the expense of getting rid of Equal Rights for LGBT+ people.

  6. A rich market for those who make a profession of being offended and for those who make a profession of being the proxies for the supposed offended.

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