Oxford University head says no one should be cancelled for their views

Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson (PA)
Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson (PA)

The head of Oxford University has launched a passionate defence of freedom of speech on Britain’s campuses.

Professor Dame Louise Richardson, who leaves the post next month, said all legal speech should be allowed at university.

She added: “I don’t think anyone should be cancelled irrespective of what their views are.

“When push comes to shove, I would defend any legal speech here, however objectionable I find it. I wish everyone was prepared to do that.”

Her comments come after increasing reports of speakers being “no-platformed” at top universities.

These include Oxford academic Professor Selina Todd, an expert in the history of working-class women, who was dropped from the Oxford International Women’s Festival hosted at Exeter College in 2020. She said organisers were pressured by transgender activists.

Professor Richardson also said the “unstable political environment” has been her biggest challenge during her seven years as vice-chancellor. She said the frequent churn of prime ministers and education secretaries made her job more difficult.

Professor Richardson, who in 2016 became Oxford’s first woman vice-chancellor, has seen five premiers and nine secretaries of state for education during her tenure but had not been able to get to know any of them properly.

She told the Oxford Student newspaper: “Ordinarily somebody in my role would invest time and energy into developing those relationships, but that hasn’t been possible.”

When she was appointed, David Cameron was prime minister and Nicky Morgan was secretary of state for education. Professor Richardson said politicians “don’t quite appreciate the significance of universities and the important role that we play in British life and driving the economy”.

She added that although individual politicians can be hostile, many were indifferent. “Not as many as I would like are seriously engaged in being advocates for universities.”

Professor Richardson is joining a philanthropic fund in New York which supports education programmes in the US.