Oxford University students have voted against “ableist, classist and misogynistic” reading lists.
The “Protection of Transgender, Non-binary, Disabled, Working Class, and Women Students from Hatred in University Contexts” policy has proved popular with many students who do not want to engage with “hateful material”.
The policy allows students to miss lectures, tutorials and seminars containing hate speech towards particular groups or other offensive subject matters, and requires academics to issue trigger warnings on any potentially distressing material.
Oxford’s current policy endorses free speech, provided this lies within the law.
However, due to the wide range of classical material containing offensive content on many syllabuses, the students’ union passed a motion arguing that this perpetuates a lack of respect for minority groups.
Alex Illsley, co-chair of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ society, proposed the motion, stating that there was a wide range of “ableist, transphobic, classist, and misogynistic content” included on reading lists.
Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful
– Oxford University spokesperson
Several Oxford professors have spoken out against the policy.
Evolutionary biologist and emeritus professor Richard Dawkins said: “What do they think history students CAN study? Henry VIII’s sexism? Ottoman sultans? The racism of just about everyone who ever lived before these privileged juveniles were born? Listen, if you don’t know what a university is for, please leave Oxford and make way for those who do.”
His response was echoed by Professor Jeff McMahan, an expert in moral philosophy at Oxford, who called the motion a “grave mistake”, and Professor Jonathan Herring, who teaches medical law and ethics. Material on his course was used to form the proposal, as one article advocated for a moral duty not to conceive disabled children.
Mr Herring said: “Those concerned about disability issues should be campaigning to have disability issues discussed in far more courses than are currently found.
“Rather than complaining about those courses which do seek to address ableism seriously and set readings on disability issues, campaigns should address the silence on disability issues found in so many courses.”
As of now, there are no plans from Oxford to censor their material. A spokesperson for the university said: “Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful.”