University of Exeter student disciplined for saying 'veganism is stupid' in his own bedroom

Robert was a student at the University of Exeter when the incident took place
Robert was a student at the University of Exeter when the incident took place -Credit:Pierre Terre/Geograph

A student from the University of Exeter claimed he faced expulsion after saying 'veganism is wrong' and 'gender fluidity is stupid' while talking to his friend in his own room on campus. Robert Ivinson, speaking on podcast Cancelled Voices, by the Committee for Academic Freedom, admitted he said the statement, but said he 'had the right to say them'.

Rob, who grew up in the United States, said he had been talking to a friend on the phone in his bedroom with the door and window closed when he was overhear by a housemate talking about "the way things were going". He told the podcast they heard him say some things they didn't like and reported him to the university.

"I was in my room with the door closed and the window closed and somebody had heard me say things that they didn't like," he said. "At about midnight, I got a knock on the door and it was two guys from the campus night patrol and they said to me 'you've been saying some very offensive things in here'.

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"I noticed that the one guy had stuck his boot in the door, so I couldn't close the door. They told me to be quiet and I think, later it came to pass that part of my crime was that I was defensive. I had said to them I could say what I want in the privacy of my own room.

"They left. I knew who it was, cause I had one neighbour - there was one person I shared a wall with, I was in a top floor corner room with a hallway on the one side. I knew exactly who it was - the girl next door to me." Robert, who was a mature student at the University of Exeter, said he thought he got on well with the housemate he suspected reported him.

"At a certain point she had heard me saying things and had called another guy into her room to witness it with her. I know who that was too, cause later he admitted it to me," he said, adding that he was surprised hi neighbour reported him.

Rob said he was informed of a disciplinary hearing at the university, where he was read a list of what he had reportedly said spark the complaint, including saying "veganism is stupid". He explained he'd had to ask the disciplinary staff to repeat that one more than once. "My brain could not process that I had to make an account for veganism, my opinions on veganism," Rob said.

He continued: "I also said 'gender fluidity is stupid', I don't believe in gender fluidity. I believe you are what you are born. Other than those two things, veganism and gender fluidity, everything else that I was reported for was something where a crucial word missing."

He stressed to the podcast that other comments had been misheard, including where he allegedly said that President Assad of Syria was "a good guy". He says he stated the dictator was "not a good guy". Rob added that he believes his neighbour was upset by what was heard, but argued his right to say it - particularly behind closed doors in his room.

"I think she was distressed from what I said," he said. "The problem is that someone was listening to a conversation that they're not a part of that they're not conceivably a part of. Her distress, while unfortunate does not trump my freedom to say these things.

"My position was 'well, if it was noise, okay, I conceed that I made noise' and I did say to them that I'm sorry I disturbed her. If it's about the content though, I have the right to say these things - I have the right to say what I want. Especially in the privacy of my own room."

Rob told the Mail he apologised for the disturbance but maintained his position. Following the hearing, he tried to appeal the uni's decision to hand him a disciplinary contract, whereby if he was found to have breached conduct again during his time there, he could be expelled. Though he attempted to appeal the decision, Rob said it was denied.

While the incident took place in 2018, Robert told the publication he felt he couldn't speak out about it for fear of repercussions.

The University of Exeter has been criticised by one of its lecturers, Edward Skidelsky, who is also the director of the Committee for Academic Freedom. Mr Skidelsky said: "It's extraordinary that in 21st century Britain eavesdroppers can be rewarded, and a student punished for remarks made to a friend in the privacy of his room.

"Robert's case once again underlines the insidious erosion of the freedom to express opinions and ideas which is playing out at our universities."

University of Exeter has been contacted for comment.