Sussex University hosts staff workshop on 'dealing with right-wing attitudes in the classroom'

University officials say the event was aimed to help staff challenge extreme attitudes, such as racism or homophobia

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 22 February 2017 12:09
Comments
Sussex staff said it was 'worrying' that students felt unable to voice Conservative views on campus
Sussex staff said it was 'worrying' that students felt unable to voice Conservative views on campus

The University of Sussex has been accused of restricting free speech after one of its leading professors held a workshop for academic staff on “dealing with ring-wing attitudes and politics in the classroom”.

The event, which was advertised on posters around the campus, welcomed all Faculty and PhD staff to join for an “informal discussion and collaboration around issues of conflict, security and peacebuilding”.

The proposed workshop stoked controversy, however, with students and staff complaining of political bias within the institution.

Dan Hough, a politics professor at the university, published a picture of the poster on Twitter, with the caption: “Perhaps we should just talk about, analyse and then evaluate all positions in any given debate, no?”

Harry Howard, a third year History and Politics student, told The Telegraph he was “shocked and angry” to see the poster on display in the Politics Faculty.

He said there is a “worrying aversion” to right wing opinions at the university adding that “universities should be intellectually diverse, rather than echo chambers of left wing opinion”.

Professor Claire Annesley, head of the law, politics and sociology faculty, responded in a blog post that was was concerned to learn students felt unable to voice conservative views in seminars.

She said: “I worry when a student tells me that he keeps his economically liberal views to himself in seminars because he senses that his politics do not conform to some kind of perceived political norm.

“I feel we have failed when an alumna tells me that it was only after graduation that she realised she hadn’t been the only Conservative among her cohort; the others just kept schtum.

“Silencing student voices is never what we aspire to as a department.”

The debate follows claims that more than nine in 10 British universities are guilty of restricting free speech on campus.

Evidence presented by Spiked magazine suggested campus censorship has increased steadily in recent years, with a growing number of institutions choosing to ban newspapers, guest speakers and ideas that are not in keeping with certain values.

National Union of Students President, Malia Bouattia, criticised the findings as “flawed”, however, claiming the trend for “safe-spaces” and “no-platforming” were designed to protect students and staff from danger and harassment.

Responding to the workshop complaints, a Sussex University spokesperson said staff involved recognised that the poster “did not reflect the aims of the discussion”.

In a statement, the university said: "The event was aimed at talking about what role teaching staff should have in challenging extreme attitudes, such as racist or homophobic comments, on campus.

"Racism and homophobia exist across the political spectrum and there should be no elision between right wing politics and extremism.

"An openness to and tolerance of diverging political views is an essential part of learning and sits at the core of the teaching ethos at the University."

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