A Derby University professor claims that “safe space” policies are making other professors fear losing their jobs if they discussed certain issues.

The Claim

Dennis Hayes, a professor from Derby University, has claimed that “safe space” policies at universities have created a “climate of censorious quietude,” as professors fear losing their jobs for discussing certain issues. His speaking out about the issue came just after Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, said that institutions are legally obliged to ensure there is “freedom of speech.”

He also said that he wrote to university leaders in concern over the risk these policies have. These policies are usually created by student unions that aim to prevent discriminatory language from being used. Several high-profile celebrities have had their speeches cancelled, such as Fermaine Greer, a feminist writer, and Peter Thatchell, a human rights activist, due to a fear that their opinions would upset students.

According to an earlier report by the “Joeseph Rowntree Reform Trust,” censorship on campus “has been increasingly steady” over the last three years, and there has been an increasing number of higher education institutions that actively attack ideas that do not seem in tune with its values.

Hayes’ Comments

Hayes said:  “There’s so many things that could be discussed, that you dare not say. So when you go to university now, you learn what not to say.”

He also said that there seems to be a belief that students shouldn’t discuss topics, like abortion, racism, or LGBT rights unless they directly and visibly experience it themselves, and that discussing this “can get you in serious trouble, if not the sack, but you get sent to Coventry”.

“No-one will talk to you,” he said.

“What exists is a climate of censorious quietude in universities. Things are simply not discussed. Academics and students know what they should not discuss.”

Jo Johnson’s Comments

Jo Johnson had told industry leaders in a conference: “Freedom of speech is a core legal duty for universities.

“For a very long time there’s been an obligation on institutions to ensure there is genuinely a climate in which ideas can be challenged and debates can be genuinely entered into.”

He said he had written to Universities UK “out of concern that this duty that universities have was at risk from safe spaces and no-platforming”.

He specifically pointed out that one of higher education institutions’ purposes is “to create an atmosphere” where people can challenge and discuss ideas.


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