Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson has distanced herself from ongoing criticism over her comments about homophobia on campus.
At a Times Higher Education summit earlier this week, Richardson suggested that it was not her job “to make [students] feel comfortable”.
Speaking at the 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.”
An open letter to the vice-chancellor strongly condemned her comments, and has gained over 2000 signatures from professors, students, and alumni. Several JCRs also filed individual letters and the comments were also criticised by the Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign.
In a statement released yesterday, Richardson said: “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 added: “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.”
Richardson’s statement also called on Rebecca Surender, PVC for Equality and Diversity, and Kevin Coutinho, the University’s Head of Equality and Diversity, to explain the University’s position on the issue and its “commitment to tackling discrimination.”
They go on to say that the University is “proud to offer a place of study and work that is both safe and welcoming to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT+) students and staff” and that it is “committed to ensuring that LGBT+ staff and students are able to thrive and realise their potential at the University”.
Richardson’s response was criticised by the Oxford SU LGBTQ+ campaign. “The vice-chancellor’s statement seemingly accepts no responsibility for any harm caused,” they said in a statement made yesterday.
“Indeed, she seems keen to stand by her statement that it is not her job to make us feel comfortable, passing responsibility for the bulk of the response to Rebecca Surender… and Kevin Coutinho.”
They added that they do not accept the University’s commitment to diversity whilst the “Vice-Chancellor does not publicly accept and apologise for harm which her comments have caused”.
The campaign further accused Richardson of ignoring the uproar amongst students in particular, highlighting that she only mentioned “a number of colleagues from around the University” in her statement.
In a statement, the Oxford University LGBTQ Society also “vehemently condemned” her response. “This statement is simply a non apology, a way of pushing under the rug what she has previously said”.