South College Principal apologises for calling students “pathetic” in Liddle walk-out


The Principal of South College has issued an apology after he shouted at students who were staging a walkout just before columnist Rod Liddle was due to give a speech at a Christmas formal.

In an email to all South students, Professor Tim Luckhurst, who is also Associate Pro Vice Chancellor (Engagement) at Durham University, said: “On Friday evening a group of South College students exercised their right to leave the College Formal before my guest, Rod Liddle, began to speak. I responded to their decision by reminding the students that South College is committed to the defence of free speech.

“I was wrong to describe the students’ action as pathetic and I apologise unreservedly for doing so.”

– Tim Luckhurst

“When they did not return to their seats, I called their walkout ‘pathetic’. My anger reflected my sincere commitment to freedom of speech. However, I was wrong to describe the students’ action as pathetic and I apologise unreservedly for doing so. The students had as much right to absent themselves from the speech as my guest had to make it.”

The apology comes amidst student outrage at controversial comments made by Liddle at the formal regarding transgender people, colonialism and single mothers. Several South College students walked out before Liddle had begun to speak, at which point Luckhurst shouted “at South College, we value freedom of speech” and “pathetic”.

Several more students exited during the course of the speech and following the formal, Liddle was approached by students who shouted “disgusting” and “racist” and a Stonewall “Some people are trans. Get over it!” poster was stuck onto the door of the Principal’s Office later that night.  Post-it notes on a South College window also read “transphobes are not welcome here Tim”.

Both Professor Luckhurst and the JCR President Sean Hannigan made speeches after Liddle had finished in which they defended his right to express his views.  Hannigan expressed strong disagreement with the speech. Stating that “sex and gender are not the same thing”, Hannigan was greeted by cheers and applause from student attendees. 

Hannigan told Palatinate, “South College prides itself on being a college where freedom of speech is respected alongside that of the individual.” He went on to stress that, “to question someone’s right to exist or their status as whoever they feel to be is not a matter of debate or that of free speech – it is that of human rights.”

Luckhurst had previously told Palatinate: “Sincere commitment to freedom of speech is inevitably challenging. It requires us to consider ideas with which we may disagree instinctively. I regard that as a crucial part of the excellent education on offer here at Durham.  

“The students had as much right to absent themselves from the speech as my guest had to make it.”

– Tim Luckhurst

The University stated it has launched “an investigation into the circumstances” in a statement that also condemned the views espoused in Liddle’s speech. They said: “Protection of the right to free speech extends to discussion of issues that are controversial, including the expression of views which may shock, disturb, or offend others. 

 “The University categorically does not agree with the comments reported from a speech given by an external speaker at this occasion, and is concerned at reports that the behaviours exhibited at the occasion fall short of those that we expect. 

 “The exchange of ideas within the University should at all times be conducted in a tolerant manner. Everybody has the right to live, work and study in a respectful environment.

“We are looking into this as a matter of urgency, and an investigation into the circumstances is now underway.”

Several student groups have published statements condemning Liddle’s comments and the decision to host him as a guest speaker. Durham University’s Intersectional Feminist penned an open letter calling for Professor Luckhurst to apologise and for there to be greater transparency surrounding the way in which guests are invited to speak at college events.

Image: PalTV

5 thoughts on “South College Principal apologises for calling students “pathetic” in Liddle walk-out

  • I am a Durham alumna, and I note that Prof Luckhurst is Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engagement.

    I would like Prof Luckhurst to outline what his objective was in inviting Rod Liddle to speak. Was he hoping to promote a particular point of view? If so, I would like to know which elements of Rod Liddle’s speech Prof Luckhurst agreed with, and how he was hoping to engage the student body using this particular platform.

    On the other hand, if Prof Luckhurst did not agree with some or all of Rod Liddle’s speech, again, what were his aims in facilitating a platform for Liddle to express these views?

    • Was about to write the same questions!

  • Does anybody at Durham University agree with George Orwell’s statement that ‘if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’?
    Apparently, no.

  • Blatant racism and sexism are indeed things we do not want to hear in 2021; there is nothing unfamiliar about them, and hearing them repeated does nothing to advance anything except intolerance. What is surprising here is that Prof. Luckhurst is being asked for an apology, rather than being pressed to resign. Free speech is not a licence publically to voice offensive and inhuman views.


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