In a formal statement yesterday afternoon, Durham SU accused South College Principal Tim Luckhurst of “insulting and humiliating” the college’s student body, and described his position as “untenable”. One of the authors of the statement has confirmed to Palatinate this means the SU is calling for the Principal’s resignation.
Professor Luckhurst cancelled a speech at the Durham Union Society yesterday and is no longer talking to the media personally about the issue. He has also been taken off a planned business trip to America to meet donors to the University.
Yesterday, Acting Vice-Chancellor Antony Long took the rare step of contacting all students with the University’s statement on the matter, saying the University has “taken immediate steps to launch an investigation which will follow our established processes.” The University has said it “categorically” disagrees with the content of the speech.
The Presidents of every Durham Association have issued a joint statement calling for content warnings for future speakers, transparency of speaker invitation processes, and an investigation “based on his neglect of duty of care to students … and his wife’s bullying”, in reference to a video on social media in which the Principal’s wife is seen calling a student an ‘arse’, and a later tweet in which she called those who walked out a “bunch of inadequates”.
Meanwhile, Rod Liddle himself has commented on the issue to national media. He told the Daily Mail last night, “He didn’t call the students pathetic, he called the walkout pathetic. I’m not racist and I’m not transphobic. I want a world where transgender people can live in happiness, dignity and equality with everybody else. I loathe racism. The main point of my speech was that I’m often wrong, and I know I’m often wrong. We have to have tolerance of other opinions and doubt in our own opinions”.
Today, Liddle told the BBC: “If you are at university you need to listen to views that are contrary to your own opinions and that’s what my speech was about. It was about tolerance.”
The SU wrote: “Notwithstanding any other positive things done at South College, Tim Luckhurst’s position at Durham is untenable. No Principal gets to abuse their students, call them pathetic, and then attack them for wanting to just be safe in their home.”
The statement comes as a response to a South College formal which took place on Friday 3rd December, at which South College students staged a walkout in protest of the event’s guest speaker, columnist Rod Liddle. Liddle went on to make a speech containing remarks described by some as “transphobic” and “racist”. A video circulating online shows Professor Luckhurst talking to students after the formal, including telling one student they “should not be at University” if they refused to tolerate other people’s views. The student had told the Principal he should resign.
The SU statement continues “the Principal’s attempts to frame his calculated behaviour within the freedom of speech discourse is disingenuous, and does a disservice to those genuinely fighting threats to academic freedom across the world.”
Luckhurst defended Liddle in an email response to a student complaint, stating: “My guest’s topic was tolerance. He spoke about the importance of listening to alternative perspectives. He attacked nobody.”
“We have no right not to be offended, but offence doesn’t harm us, and freedom of speech means nothing unless it encompasses the right to say things with which others disagree profoundly.”
The SU statement argues that in this “straightforward abuse of power”, Professor Luckhurst “has failed in his duty of care as Principal to South College students, and as a leader in our University community … This is not the behaviour of a man we want educating, leading and supporting our students.”
DSU expressed solidarity with students who left during the speech, and described the event as part of a “problematic culture” and “not an isolated event”.
The incident has been widely criticised by the student body, with Durham’s Working Class Students Association saying that “allowing Rod Liddle a platform to enable his transphobia and racism is beyond inappropriate.”
The Association went on to call for the event to be investigated by the University: “Transphobia and racism cannot be defended under the notion of ‘political views’ or ‘academic freedom’ and it has no place on campus, where students are supposed to feel safe”.
Durham University Labour Club expressed similar views, stating: “Our university doesn’t owe hate a platform.
“We unequivocally condemn the decision to invite Rod Liddle. Trans people have a fundamental right to safety and security on campus. It’s a disgrace that this was compromised last night under the veil of ‘academic freedom’.”
The SU statement said that the University process for dealing with this must not be rushed and allow Luckhurst to claim himself to be a victim. They said that “we understand why institutional public statements are cautious in these situations. We’ll judge [the University leadership] on their response and how they demonstrate that Tim Luckhurst is not untouchable.”
Image: Durham University