Richardson “sorry” for homophobia row

Exclusive: Louise Richardson has offered her first apology for comments suggesting it wasn't her job to combat the homophobic views of university staff

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Louise Richardson. Image: John Cairns.

Louise Richardson has apologised for the upset caused by her comments regarding homophobia at the University.

Last week, the Oxford vice-chancellor provoked uproar among some parts of the student body for suggesting that it isn’t her job to “make students comfortable” with the homophobic views of university staff.

Her comments prompted an angry backlash, with Oxford SU President Kathryn Cole saying: “Freedom of speech is not an excuse for homophobia.”

But in a letter sent to the Wadham SU executive on Monday, seen by Cherwell, Richardson apologised for her “clumsy” wording and said she was “sorry” for the upset caused.

“I have been completely taken aback by the reaction to my answer to a question on free speech at the THE Summit in London last week,” she wrote.

“I have now seen the transcript of the discussion and can understand why people are upset. In a live Q&A my wording was clumsy and as reported does not reflect my intent at all.”

Her letter, which came in response to the Wadham SU President demanding she clarified her remarks, said: “Let me say how sorry I am to have caused such upset.

“Lest there be any doubt on the subject: I do not tolerate homophobia, I have never tolerated homophobia, and I never will tolerate homophobia in any university to which I am attached.

“You should know that had any student ever come to me to report the homophobic behaviour of their teacher my first response would have been a human one of concern for the student and the second would have been to invoke university policies to protect them.

“The conversations to which I alluded were not conversations with victims of homophobia, but conversations with students about balancing the demands of free speech and the desire not to be offended. In retrospect I wish I had chosen a different example.”

She added that she intended to work closely with Oxford LGBTQ groups in the coming terms.

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Richardson’s apology is the most recent attempt to respond to her comments at the THE Summit, which have provoked more than 2000 students, staff and alumni to sign an open letter demanding clarification and a public apology.

In a statement last week, the VC said her comments had been “misconstrued”.

I might have hoped that my track record over many years of speaking out against discrimination in all its forms would have answered some of those concerns,” she said.

“It is a matter of great regret to me that my words are being used to call into question this impressive, sustained endeavour to make Oxford a diverse and inclusive university.”


The vice-chancellor’s letter to Wadham SU, in full:

I have been completely taken aback by the reaction to my answer to a question on free speech at the THE Summit in London last week. I have now seen the transcript of the discussion and can understand why people are upset. In a live Q&A my wording was clumsy and as reported does not reflect my intent at all.

First let me say how sorry I am to have caused such upset.

Lest there be any doubt on the subject: I do not tolerate homophobia, I have never tolerated homophobia, and I never will tolerate homophobia in any university to which I am attached.

You should know that had any student ever come to me to report the homophobic behaviour of their teacher my first response would have been a human one of concern for the student and the second would have been to invoke university policies to protect them.

The conversations to which I alluded were not conversations with victims of homophobia, but conversations with students about balancing the demands of free speech and the desire not to be offended. In retrospect I wish I had chosen a different example.

I do believe passionately in the principle of free speech and the responsibility of universities to defend it. I also believe that the best education is one that challenges our preconceptions and causes us to question our assumptions, that robs us of our certitudes and makes us feel uncomfortable. But I would never construe those principles as permitting harassment or discrimination in the classroom.

A strong LGBTQ community is a hallmark of a liberal university. I look forward to meeting representatives of Oxford’s LGBTQ groups on my return and you will find that you have no stronger advocate for a university and a society free of discrimination.

Louise Richardson

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