Durham to review guest speaker policy as students plan open day protests

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Durham University will review its policy on guest speakers at colleges following the conclusion of an investigation into columnist Rod Liddle’s controversial appearance and speech at a South College formal dinner in December.

The update comes as students plan a protest at Durham’s Post-offer Visit Days (POVD) on 22nd and 23rd March. Several societies, including Durham’s Working-Class Students Association, are understood to be backing the protest. 

The University plans to distribute flyers on the issue to counter protesters on the day, with POVD student ambassadors warned of protests scheduled from 10am outside the Teaching and Learning Centre.

As part of their training, ambassadors were advised to “be professional in your outlook when asked about the protests and any other issues” and told “your personal opinion may have to be separated from your position as an employee”. 

Organisers said the move would form part of broader protests, including scoring the University low on the National Student Survey, and planned rent strikes.

In a statement this afternoon, Durham University confirmed they would not be publishing the report into South College Principal Professor Tim Luckhurst’s role in the incident “in line with the policies of the University”, though acknowledging this would “frustrate some”.

Grey College Principal Professor Tom Allen has been tasked “to examine and make recommendations to Senate on how we engage external speakers for College-based events, aligning with our formal University policy”. 

The University plans to distribute flyers to counter protesters

The University insisted the intention of the review was “not, in any way, to exclude any speakers from our campus”, saying the focus would be “on providing clarity as to how students and the wider college community are engaged, including the appropriateness of the forum for any speaker and ensuring appropriate information is provided in advance to attendees”.

Most students on the day had not been informed of Liddle’s presence or planned after-dinner speech when purchasing the tickets for the formal.

Durham promised to provide another update on the issue once the University’s Senate had considered the new report by Professor Tom Allen.

The Instagram page ‘southcollegeprotest’ has formed a list of 24 key demands from the University, which include management calling for Principal Luckhurst’s resignation, establishing a student hate speech committee and implementing a framework to vet guest speakers. 

One of the organisers of the upcoming protests, first-year South student told Palatinate “In their statement, University management have shown themselves to be puppets of culture war proponents. 

“They have committed themselves to open debate, which frankly is not what is at issue. The formal was not in an academic setting.

“What is clear, is that Durham University have yet again failed their students, and taken a line they believe will sell best to tabloids, rather than act in the interests of the community they claim to support.” 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Antony Long said in a statement: “As you may recall, the events at South College occurred at a formal College dinner, an event when staff, students and supporters of the college come together to build their sense of belonging and community. 

“We are clear that, as a University, we must constantly strive to establish a culture which is underpinned by respect and by our values. 

“That should include taking pride in how we discuss and debate ideas and issues, cultures and thinking, including those that we may find challenging. 

“We should ensure that as an educational institution we allow our students opportunities to openly debate so that ideas and views can be heard and contested respectfully.”

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