"I've had many conversations with students who say they don't feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views. And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable.’ If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure out how a smart person can have views like that. Work out how you can persuade him to change his mind. It is difficult, but it is absolutely what we have to do.”
We are concerned at this serious conflation of free speech and legitimate academic discussion with matters concerning the protected rights, respect and dignity of our students and our staff, as defined clearly in our university equality policy, along with our legal obligations in the Equality Act of 2010.
The Act clearly protects gender, sex and sexual orientation from discrimination.
The example given was not a freedom of speech issue. These comments are discriminatory, and, in the context of a student-lecturer/tutor relationship, they amount to harassment.
The situation here is not the same as a university or public debate, where controversial, strongly opposed, or uncomfortable (if legal) views are being discussed in an open forum with parity to all speakers.
The example given here was instead of a classroom setting within the academic environment of the university, where faculty hold responsibilities in their teaching of students, and where students must be assured of both the respect and dignity of their persons, as well as of those protected characteristics under the law. This is not a matter of making students “feel comfortable”, but a question of the university’s responsibility towards them, after hearing such concerns expressed. The idea that an 18 to 21 year old (or anyone) should be responsible for challenging the homophobic views of someone who has responsibility, and so much authority and power over them, is preposterous.
We invite the Vice-Chancellor:
To confirm her commitment to the University of Oxford Equality Policy;
In keeping with the Equality Policy, to reaffirm that the University aims to “embed equality in all its activities” and remains committed to “fostering an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected”;
To remind all academic staff of their responsibilities under the Equality Policy and the Equality Act 2010 to “promote an inclusive research and learning environment”, and to clarify that the expression of homophobic views in a teaching environment is not tolerated at the University.
To address any such matters that students raise in future, by ensuring the relevant faculty receives adequate education about the relevant aspects of the Equality Duty, the HRA, and university policy, and providing the individual with all necessary training and education in order to comply with the law, and the university’s policies.