18:54 GMT03 March 2021
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    In the last 12 month the so-called “cancel culture” - where people whose views are out of kilter with woke millennials are called out or shamed online has grown considerably. The Conservative Party is concerned the dominance of Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ and climate change activists is threatening free speech in English universities.

    Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is laying out plans to challenge the cancel culture in English universities and will appoint a "free speech champion."

    "I am deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring," said Mr Williamson.

    ​Academics and students have been called out for holding opinions which are out of line with liberal views on race, gender, sexuality, climate and a number of other issues.

    Among those who have been refused a platform to address students at universities have been Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, philosopher Roger Scruton and feminists Julie Bindel and Selina Todd, both of whom have been accused of making transphobic remarks.

    Jordan Peterson speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA
    Jordan Peterson speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA

    In 2019 Cambridge University withdrew an invitation to Canadian academic and YouTuber Jordan Peterson after he was accused of bigotry.

    In a speech he will give later on Tuesday, 16 February, Mr Williamson will say: "We must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached."

    The rise of the Black Lives Matter campaign, following the death of George Floyd in the United States last year, led to calls for a wider rethink about Britain’s colonial past and its involvement in slavery.

    A student beats the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with a belt as it is removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT), April 9, 2015
    © REUTERS / Mike Hutchings
    A student beats the statue of Cecil John Rhodes with a belt as it is removed from the University of Cape Town (UCT), April 9, 2015

    The toppling of a statue of slavery entrepreneur and philanthropist Edward Colston in Bristol was followed by the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University and calls for the recognition of other universities’ historic links with those who profited from slavery.

    ​Several academics welcomed the proposals in a letter to The Times.

    The letter said: "In recent years, too many academics have been marginalised because they hold unorthodox views on issues like gender, Brexit and the legacy of empire.”

    But Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, criticised Mr Williamson’s plans and said: "It is extraordinary that in the midst of a global pandemic the government appears more interested in fighting phantom threats to free speech than taking action to contain the real and present danger which the virus poses to staff and students."

    ​The free speech champion, who has not yet been appointed, will sit on the Office For Students' board and adjudicate when activists seek to cancel controversial speakers at universities and student unions.

    The Office For Students is headed up by James Wharton, a former Conservative MP who held junior ministerial roles under David Cameron and Theresa May.

    Last week the opposition Labour Party called his appointment “cronyism” and urged the head of the civil service to investigate how he was chosen.

    As a result of devolution, the Scottish and Welsh governments oversee universities in Scotland and Wales and in Northern Ireland it is a matter for the Assembly at Stormont.

    Tags:
    Cambridge University, Oxford University, slavery, Black Lives Matter, universities, Gavin Williamson
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