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'Dubious' Evidence Used by Education Minister in New Free Speech Legislation

Colin Riordan, head of Cardiff University, has claimed that education secretary Gavin Williamson is using ‘dubious’ and ‘misleading’ information to support his new legislation on free speech in universities

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A 2019 report from Policy Exchange is alleged to have been relied on by the government as evidence for legislation to curb a supposed free speech ‘crisis’ occurring on university campuses. The report claimed that Cardiff university had “no-platformed” Germaine Greer in 2015 as a result of students protesting against her “transphobic” comments. Yet Riordan has been keen to emphasise the mendacity of this supposed evidence, stating that the reality of the situation “is exactly the opposite of what has been suggested: the event went ahead.”

Riordan noted that the student campaigns against Greer did spark some consideration within the university as to whether the event should go ahead. But ultimately, Riordan resolved that, in keeping with the university’s duties in upholding free speech, the event should be held. Rather than enlisting in what the government had declared the “unacceptable silencing and censoring” on campuses, Riordan actually supported free speech, despite sympathies with the protestors.

Despite previous communications with Policy Exchange requesting the amendment of the erroneous claim, the thinktank failed to correct the mistake until last week. Unfortunately, this comes after its use in backing the new legislation on free speech in universities, including the inclusion of the false evidence in David Davis’ private member’s bill on free speech.

Policy Exchange have responded by saying: “We were happy to note that Cardiff University ensured that the Greer event went ahead. The question still serves to reveal a split in student opinion about what the university’s actions should have been, in response to the protest that led to the initial cancellation.”

Some universities have noted privately that it has been difficult to resolve certain areas of debate on campus, including the incidents of division between feminists and trans activists. Upholding their responsibilities to the Equality Act 2010 and freedom of speech has sometimes been difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, Riordan is ardent in his assertion that there is no well-grounded evidence for the magnitude of “crisis” that the government describes.

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