Monday, March 12, 2007

Free speech at Oxford University?

Now here's something a little different.

Professor David Coleman (pictured), a leading expert in demographics at Oxford University, is the latest high profile casualty of over-zealous students refusing to tolerate someone who espouses views different to their own.

Coleman's Crime? He has connections with immigration monitor, MigrationWatch, which was the first organisation to point out that there were up to 500,000 immigrants living illegally in the UK. The government at first denied the allegation until figures were released showing that even this number was an underestimate.

The students claim the professor is bringing Oxford into disrepute by using his academic title to legitimise alleged anti-immigration views in the media and have called for his dismissal.

One of the students behind the petition, Kieran Hutchinson Dean, 19, said the aim was to invite debate, saying

"We are not expecting the professor to be sacked straight away. But we ask that he refrains from using his academic status when promoting his own views. "

The world-wise 19 year-old continued,

"Academic freedom is not absolute and people using their academic titles should recognise this."

However, it is here that the predictable plot diverges. For unlike Clare College at Cambridge University, which postrated itself over the Clareification episode, Professor Coleman has come out fighting. Hard.

"It is a shameful attempt, of the most intolerant and totalitarian kind, to suppress the freedom of analysis and informed comment which it is the function of universities to cherish. I am ashamed that Oxford students should behave in this way. It is the signatories who will bring the university into disrepute, and it is they who should reconsider their membership. Under no circumstances will I refrain from using my academic title."

Go tiger!

Encouragingly, he has been deluged in support from all sides of the political spectrum.
First up was Professor Stone, director of the Migration Research Unit at University College London,

"What a nuisance - it's an absurd over-reaction. The poor darlings. It just shows they've got nothing better to do. They're just striking attitudes. They're a pest."

Cue left-wing Liberal Democrat MP, Evan Harris, who described his views as

"legal and delivered lawfully. He had every right to express them without fear or retribution from his employer."

Finally Terence Blackler writing in the left-leaning UK broadsheet, The Independent, authored an opinion piece entitled, "If academics can't think freely, who can?" He wrote,

"Fear of reprisals, of the rage of students, is now a powerful influence on how academics write, speak and perhaps even think. The story of what happened to Coleman (and he is the third academic to have been accused for having unacceptable attitudes in the past eight months) will have a general chilling effect on the freedom in universities to research and write in the future."

Scott at the Daily Ablution has thoroughly fisked the student group in question, STAR (Student Action for Refugees). It transpires that STAR have received over $1 million of tax payers money over the past three years and are all professional lobbyists for taxpayer money to support their 'causes'.

via The New English Review and the (indispensable) Pub Philosopher

Contact details for the err, very diverse, STAR (see pic); if you should be so inclined.

Katherine Blaker, Chief Executive - 020 7840 4400
Natasha King, Student Outreach Officer - 020 7840 4444
Youth Outreach Officer - 020 7840 4425
Hannah Blythyn, Communications and Events Officer - 020 7840 4443