By Max Kendix
Durham University has confirmed it was aware in advance that columnist Rod Liddle would be attending the Christmas formal at South College last Friday.
A University spokesperson said: “The University knew about the visit and arrangements were discussed with the College.” Palatinate understands the University had recommended security be put in place at the event, though the contents of the speech were not known by the University in advance.
Professor Tim Luckhurst has been told to step away from any public-facing roles as college Principal and Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement) whilst the University investigates the circumstances surrounding the controversial speech given by Liddle at the event.
Palatinate revealed on Saturday the contents of Liddle’s speech and the ensuing reaction of students. The columnist claimed the left railed against “science or pure facts”, saying “a person with an X and a Y chromosome, that has a long, dangling penis, is scientifically a man, and that is pretty much, scientifically, the end of the story”.
He went on to say: “It is fairly easily proven that colonialism is not remotely the major cause of Africa’s problems, just as it is very easy to prove that the educational underachievement of British people of Caribbean descent or African Americans is nothing to do with institutional or structural racism”.
Liddle also talked about the UK’s forced adoption policy between 1945 and 1975, saying that modern attitudes put the woman not the child first, and that anger about the policy did not take sufficient account of the child’s mental health and economic circumstances.
Luckhurst, who shouted “pathetic” and “at South College, we value freedom of speech” at students staging a walkout before the speech, has now been taken off a University trip to America for a journalism-related fundraising event and told to cancel a planned speech at the Durham Union Society on Friday.
Over 300 people attended a protest at South College today, holding banners including “pathetic arse”, “Luckhurst out” and “Trans Lives Matter”. Organisers who had asked to meet with Luckhurst to discuss Friday’s events were told by Vice Principal Lee Worden that he was willing to engage but barred from doing so.
Liddle has publicly called for the University to apologise to him and Luckhurst and to reimburse his travel expenses. He told GB News he expected the reaction from students, but did not expect the reaction of the University, saying the University decided to act “to appease these jabbering infants”.
In an email to students this morning, Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Antony Long announced that Professor Jane MacNaughton would be leading an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the formal.
MacNaughton will compile a report by mid-January 2022 and the Vice-Chancellor will then determine the University’s course of action.
Long encouraged students and staff to respect the investigation and not to contact MacNaughton. He also acknowledged that some would be frustrated by the long timescale, explaining “the investigation has to be thorough and follow our agreed policies”.
Professor Luckhurst has since apologised for shouting “pathetic” at protesting students, but told Palatinate, “I regret any offence that has arisen, but I fear we have no right not to be offended”.
Durham Students’ Union has also criticised the Principal’s wife’s behaviour as “inappropriate” following a widely-shared video of her calling students “arses” in the aftermath of the event. She told The Times she was surrounded by shouting students at the time and had felt intimidated: “I shouldn’t have said what I did but it had been a long day and it was very tense”.
Addressing the events of Friday night, Long said: “I do not duck the fact that Durham has at times a reputation for being elitist, for not always being as welcoming or as inclusive as we would like to be.
“I know many of us want to leave that reputation behind. To do that we must work to create a tolerant, inclusive University that treats others with respect not arrogance, and that listens so as to understand others.
“I take huge pride in the way in which our community is broadly responding, by the seriousness and the determination that so many of you bring to the debate. I hope that through this experience, we become a stronger University.”
Image: Iori Sean Thorpe