The Daily Telegraph
Top academic’s pro-brexit piece was ‘suppressed’ by Cambridge
CAMBRIDGE University has become embroiled in a new free speech row with a senior academic accusing the vice-chancellor of suppressing his probrexit article.
Sir Noel Malcolm, an honorary fellow at three Cambridge colleges, said he was “shocked” at his treatment by the university when he attempted to have an opinion piece published on the Brexit section of their website.
He said he felt compelled to speak out on the matter after several of the university’s academics claimed the vicechancellor is “committed to championing freedom of expression”.
The group of academics mounted a defence of Prof Stephen Toope in the wake of a separate free speech revolt over a list of “micro-aggressions” published by the university last month.
But writing to The Daily Telegraph, Sir Noel described how his own experience “lies on the contrary side”.
Sir Noel, an expert in early modern intellectual history, who was knighted for his services to scholarship, told how he submitted an article about the merits of Brexit for universities in early 2019.
His article contained a critique of an “alarmist” anti-brexit statement issued by the Russell Group, which represents the UK’S 24 leading universities including Cambridge.
“Cambridge had a special section of its website devoted to articles on Brexit – almost all of them hostile,” Sir Noel said. “An official told me that those with ‘current links to Cambridge’ could publish on it, and I am an honorary fellow of three Cambridge colleges, but my article was refused.”
He said his requests for a reason were met first with silence, then with the “absurd falsehood” that Cambridge was not represented by the Russell Group, and finally with a “dismissive” message from a university official.
“I realised that they would say almost anything to justify not publishing my article,” Sir Noel told The Telegraph. “They forced me to come to the conclusion that they did not want to publish anything that was implicitly pro-brexit.”
When he raised the matter with Prof Toope, he described the response as one of “corporate impunity”.
“Brexit [was] rather a special issue which people had very strong views about, and the overwhelmingly dominant view in academia was anti-brexit,” said Sir Noel, who is a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.
“But one looks to universities above all to sustain values, not just of free speech, but the values of reasoned argument which involve accepting facts and logical reasons put forward by people you disagree with, in defence of positions you may disagree with.”
It is the latest free speech row at Cambridge University.
Last month the vice-chancellor moved to quell a revolt by announcing that the publication of a “micro-aggressions” list was a mistake.
Prof Toope wrote to the entire staff body to explain that aspects of its new reporting website, which was launched last week but then taken offline days later following its exposure in The Telegraph, had been included “in error”.
Sir Noel said that his experience was not just about free speech, but also about the “cultural underpinnings” of the university including “respect for fact, argument, [discussion]”.
A Cambridge University spokesman said that its EU website was “not [an] open publishing platform and nor was it intended as a forum for debate. It was primarily a place for practical Brexit information and guidance for current staff and students.
“It contained an ‘analysis’ section where active researchers at the University could showcase work that related to both Brexit and their area of study. We exercised no political judgments in deciding on the content of the site and the EU pages carried analysis reflecting divergent standpoints.”
‘They forced me to come to the conclusion that they did not want to publish anything that [was] pro-brexit’