Yesterday the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University said the following about free speech - why have her equivalents in this country been so quiet on the issue?
"We have to defend free speech – we have a very clear and very good free speech policy in this university, and very simply, we just stick by that. The policy enables the right for people to come and express their views – some people’s views will be perfectly acceptable to some individuals and totally unacceptable and distasteful to others ..
.. part of what we’ve got to learn going forward is how we can learn to engage in debate & discussion around difficult issues you feel very differently about or may view as offensive .. You also need to learn to sometimes change your mind on what you feel about things, such that if you do change your mind, you wouldn’t feel you’ve been cornered into a position .. it’s very hard for students now to have debate .. with ease & without fear of being isolated or persecuted – that’s a real shame. And it’s not just our students, .. its our staff.
We’re only going to progress our thinking around issues, evolve what it is that we think is acceptable or not, or change people’s minds if we .. debate. If we don’t have that, we actually end up in a very, very dark place. In fact, we end up in precisely the place that some of the people who don’t want free speech think they’re protecting ..
Importantly, we also need to learn how to allow people to change their minds or to make a comment without being completely jumped on. We definitely don’t have this right in our society right now .. As a university sector, this is the place where we teach students to understand their subject area from many different perspectives .. We must "learn about the importance of free speech and how we should learn to deliver, encourage, and protect it, so that we can have disagreement and discussion around key current issues".
My experience of the education sector in NZ is that it is not working along the lines how the Oxford VC describes it should be - that is "You take an issue & we teach you that this person has a view on that topic, another person has a different view on it. And then, we ask you: “What’s your view now that you’ve synthesized all those different views?”