by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 7
December 2020
Video
11:42

Tutor speaks out on Cambridge free speech battle

Freddie Sayers spoke to Dr Arif Ahmed about the university's free speech vote
by Freddie Sayers

Over recent years, we’ve learned to pay attention to the intellectual trends and taboos on university campuses — they have a way of spilling out into mainstream corporate and political life.

Which is why the vote among the 7,000 faculty at Cambridge on a new ‘free speech policy’ matters. The results will be announced tomorrow at 5pm and will be an indication of the willingness to resist the increasing threats to free speech and academic enquiry around politically sensitive topics.

Cambridge has been in the news all year in this regard —rescinding the invitation of a visiting fellowship to Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, removing academic Noah Carl after his controversial study into race and intelligence, and subjecting a college porter to a campaign to be removed after he voted a certain way on a trans issue as a Labour local councillor.

I spoke to Dr Arif Ahmed, a Philosophy tutor and fellow at Gonville and Caius college, who has raised concerns that the inclusion of a requirement to be ‘respectful’ of people’s opinions and identities, included in the proposed free speech policy, risks legitimising future censorship. He thinks it could have been used to justify excluding Jordan Peterson, on the grounds that he has not been sufficiently respectful of certain religions, or forbidding the inclusion of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a course about free speech. He suggests it is replaced with the word ‘tolerate.’

He dates the trend against full free speech at universities to the marketisation reforms of the Blair era. “The fact that universities now view students as customers means that there is much more emphasis on making them feel comfortable and making them feel at home,” he said. “They’re not being subsidised to pay for a certain public good; they’ve got paying customers and they’ve got to give those customers what they want.”

More generally, he feels we are at a crucial moment in terms of freedom:

“Individual liberty is always fragile. It’s a rare thing in history of the world. And as well as being rare, it’s very fragile. It will always come under attack from different directions, sometimes from the Left, sometimes from the Right. At the moment, I think it’s coming under attack from both the Left and the Right.”

We’ll be back with news of the result once it’s known tomorrow. Thanks to Dr Ahmed for sharing his thoughts.

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Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

I quit working at two colleges, because I felt that I was becoming less of a good teacher, and more of a bad customer service rep. Colleges are so scared of upsetting students, that there is little point to them any more. Students now come to college and teachers are expected to coddle and confirm their limited world views, rather than challenge and expand upon them.

I’m not sure what caused this, but it’s awful. I care about my students and their learning, but in all honesty, much of my work involves assigning grades in order to herd students through the system. It’s easy work for me, but I do feel that I’m doing nothing more than propping up a zombified education system.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Universities need to begin with a 9 week ‘Boot Camp’. Up at dawn, cold water to wash, 3 mile run, 10 minutes to eat chow of cold oatmeal, back to crawling under barbwire in mud, class with a good DI (drill instructor) barking at them, pushups for speaking out of turn, run again, cold lunch, class from another DI, run, 10 minutes to eat bad chow, bed at 5 and lights out.

Get them shok out of the everyone gets prizes for attendance and into the real world. This would have worked wonders for me.

opn
opn
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Don’t be silly.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

One of Blair’s many bad changes was to have 50% of the population going to university. That completely changed the ethos and also meant undergraduates had to pay, as you obviously couldn’t have them all going to University on the taxpayer. The philistine expansions meant Vicechancellors became more like supermarket CEOs and wanted the salaries to match. Before they often earned less than their top earning professors.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

He thinks it could have been used to justify excluding Jordan Peterson, on the grounds that he has not been sufficiently respectful of certain religions, or forbidding the inclusion of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a course about free speech.
wouldn’t this make the people who wanted to exclude Peterson guilty of the very thought crime they accuse him of? It’s amazing how intolerant the self-proclaimed tolerati can turn out to be. And if you’re excluding the cartoons, then you’re not teaching about free speech.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I hold most Liberalism in contempt and have no respect for its proponents. Respect is earned, not coerced.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

What is it that Peterson was forbidden to do?

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Get out of the cab.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

I cannot see how anyone should feel obliged to show respect for any thing, or any belief, or any person. I find such a proposal to be utterly uncivilsed.
Good man.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Free speech has nothing to do with showing respect for the the opinions or beliefs of any other person.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

Yea, well, the British have no ‘freedom of speech’ anyway, merely a tolerance, and one slipping away fast. UK has a great many more laws regulating and banning speech than it has protecting it. I think you need to adopt the USA Bill Of Rights, go ahead and grant those rights in writing.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Why would I need to adopt something we already have?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
1 year ago

Isn’t that what I said?

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

It is insane, or the meaning of ‘respect’ has taken a whole new meaning under Lefty/Liberalism, maybe its now code for some entirely other thing only the woke ‘get’. We need a Snowflake University student to explain to us what ‘respect’ means to them in this context.

Be a great Freddy video, a top snowflake explaining their definitions of words which have always had one meaning but now have a different one. That silly student who said they were locked down like ‘Animals’ would be perfect. Although my post may be deleted as I may not be showing her sufficient respect.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

There has always been a meaning of ‘respect’ which is mostly a synonym for ‘fear’, and for some people, especially those who maintain their status in their communities through violence and the threat of violence, that is the sort of respect that they want, the only sort that matters.

The thing I find odd is how many younger people don’t want to learn courage, i.e. how to become less frightened and how to let their fears affect them less when they are frightened, but instead to demand that others simply not do things that remind them how frightened they are. Seems related to ‘mentally ill is the new normal, if you don’t admit you are mentally ill then you are in denial’ which I heard in all seriousness last week, as well as an inability to tell the difference between being hurt, having your feelings hurt, and having your ego hurt. I don’t know if boot camp would teach them something different, but if it served to exclude those who were not willing to go through boot camp that might be sufficient to produce a better class of scholar.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

We could start by getting the righty/conservatives to tell us what woke means to them.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

The Devil. It is, by the way, dialect of a certain kind, which I find interesting. In Standard English, the past participle of ‘wake’ is ‘woken’.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

If you don’t respect other persons, then why have free speech at all? Just determine who is the most powerful, perhaps by force, and shut everyone else up.

David Foot
David Foot
1 year ago

If the dreadful descriptions and practices published by Islam about non-believers like me and what should be done to the likes of me and others who have other differences with them, I say that the Islamic doctrine and the politician who wrote those terrible things about the likes of me deserve criticism. A political criticizm of a politician In total freedom including political cartoons. We all have a right to have the same freedom Muhammad had BEFORE making those statements. Now that they are made published and repeated they should be freely criticized.

The politician Muhammad has shown no respect towards me then why should I be FORCED to respect him. To do so is the work of a tyranny.

Our society and education are subject to two obvious tyrannies today: Marxism and Islam and we shouldn’t accept the tyranny of their censors.
We need to make a stand against the tyranny of two political religions: Marxism and Islam, we mustn’t allow their tyrants to silence us.
We need to clip the wings of those who believe that “There is no god and Marx is his prophet” and the other tyrants “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”.
If there is freedom for the tyrants there should be the SAME freedom for all of us.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  David Foot

I think you have no real understanding of Islam, your post seems to be a knee jerk kind of isim from views assimilated osmotically rather than from study.

“The politician Muhammad has shown no respect towards me then why should I
be FORCED to respect him. To do so is the work of a tyranny.”

Respect is not reciprocal. You respect me and I’ll respect you – you miss the entire meaning of respect.

David Foot
David Foot
1 year ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Nobody is implicitly so superior that s/he can enact and declare / publish views and which then I MUST respect. S/he who MUST be obeyed should not be fostered unless this served political requirements as you find in the Islamic world. That should not be replicated in the West in any way. That is tyranny. All political views should be subject to criticism and a standard way to criticise a politician is with cartoons.

Respect can be: regard for the feelings of others in which case it should only work well if it is reciprocal or respect can come out of genuine admiration in this case of Islam either are impossible for a normal thinking person if we take Islam in to our consideration.
Islam once was leading the thought and knowledge of mankind but that was many centuries ago, now it trails human development and is not even a good reference to go by.
The weaker the influence of Islam on the mind of a subject/ society the better it is for the individual / society who suffers its philosophy because it is a tyranny based on profound indoctrination ideally from a very early age which aims to create a society of similar individuals which is much easier to manage, this is the difficult bit for people to understand in the UK and the effect which it has on the Islamified minds when they are confronted with uncomfortable facts (Cognitive dissonance) which are not our fault but generally a consequence of such an ideology based on indoctrination.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Isn’t this simply a situation where organisations want to avoid shitstorms at all costs?
By *appearing* whiter than white you cannot be tried by/on Twitter.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

You can’t say ‘whiter than white’!

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

ha ha

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Point taken!

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

This is a big deal. I pray for the right outcome.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

I’m amazed that we are having this debate when it would seem so patently obvious that there must be free speech in a university. Its
Taison d’etre cannot be served without it. There is no point in a university without the freedom to explore all kinds of ideas and be challenged by them however uncomfortable it may make us feel.That is how we grow in intellectual,emotional and spiritual maturity.
Cambridge has a tradition of radical thought. It was for instance a centre for the new theology of the Refomation. But its capitulation to the intolerant, anti- intellectual and irrational wokery of the moment is nothing but cowardice. Let’s hope and pray this diabolical grip on this august and venerable institution will be broken by the vote today.

vince porter
vince porter
1 year ago

We don’t know that the opinion we are trying to stifle is the wrong opinion, and, even if it were the wrong opinion, stifling it would be an evil still. A direct quote, or, close to a direct quote, from JSM.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago

Jordan Peterson came to the world’s attention not because he criticized the nutty idea of people like Joe Biden that children of six- and eight-years-old should get to determine whether they biologically transition to the opposite sex. He became famous based on his opposition to authoritarian legislation proposed by the Liberal government of Canada to force people to use genderless pronouns. Cambridge University dishonoured itself by its cowardly reversal on its invitation to Professor Peterson. It is great to hear that Dr. Ahmed is working to set things right at Cambridge.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

Is a free speech policy necessary at a public university in a country that already maintains the right to free speech as a matter of law? I’m not knocking free speech, no country can be civilized without the right to free speech. But why the doubling up when it’s already the law?

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago

It is NOT the law in UK! No right to free speech. There is no constitution, and so a first amendment, like in USA. But so popular a concept is the American Bill Of Rights that thuggish British youth are known to say they ‘Plead the 5th’ when in court.

But then rights are an odd thing. Once I was arrested with great enthusiasm by the law leaving me pretty beaten and left in chains a long wile to achieve an attitude adjustment on me, (which worked) and later was all ‘My Rights! this and that’. Once telling my story of Rights being violated some strong guy told me to just shut up. He said ‘You have two rights; the right to die, and the right to live till you die’ ‘All the rest is just a privilege granted to you by society’ so grow up. And I did right there.

I have seen some spectacular lack of rights in foreign lands, and so I realized I was the ass. I acted up so got an attitude adjustment, no lasting harm, and reflecting on it I realized we need to appreciate our Western rights as they are really a great privilege.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

Because free speech has been under sustained attack by the woke left for several years. Do you not read newspapers???

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

How is free speech not still the law no matter who attacks it?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago

Because our Parliament hasn’t passed a law to that effect.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Then you DO have a problem. Wish you the best of luck. But understand that even with laws protecting free speech, as the US has, you will still have those who attack free speech as was said in your original comment. And that’s okay since that too represents free speech. But it’s the law that protects it, not the “goodwill of men”.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

I’m amazed that we are even having this debate when it would seem so patently obvious that there must be free speech in a university. Its
Taison d’etre cannot be served without it. There is no point in a university without the freedom to explore all kinds of ideas and be challenged by them however uncomfortable it may make us feel.That is how we grow in intellectual,emotional and spiritual maturity.
Cambridge has a tradition of radical thought. It was for instance a centre for the new theology of the Refomation. But its capitulation to the intolerant, anti- intellectual and irrational wokery of the moment is nothing but cowardice. Let’s hope and pray this diabolical grip on this august and venerable institution will be broken by the vote today.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Perhaps Freddy can update us as to the outcome of the vote.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It seems Biden has won, but also that there may have been factors which produced this result that are not really covered by the US Constitution.

Mark Lilly
Mark Lilly
1 year ago

The Unherd website code for contributors (q.v., now) is hugely more draconian than this; than indeed the most woke, BLM-sponsored dementedly trendy US campus.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Tomorrow’s almost passed, but no news?

Banaccringtonstanley Now
Banaccringtonstanley Now
1 year ago

Got to say great answer from a philosopher and it’s why we need philosophers.

I’m not sure I would allow Charlie hebo as it is not tolerant is it. So maybe not so clear cut.