On Tuesday morning last week, the online journal Capex asked me to write a piece defending Toby Young’s appointment to the board of the Office of Students. I was extremely happy to write in support of his appointment.
The reasons were as I gave in the article (and which I still believe): the sector needs outsiders with experience of education if we are to move forward. The lack of robust external thinking has been partly responsible for the poor reputation that higher education had in the eyes of the public last year.
I like the idea that he worked in schools, because I see a wholly unhelpful disconnect between schools and universities. Both sides have much more to learn from the other. I like his trenchant approach on social mobility, access to HE for the least advantaged and free speech.
He’s not just talk. With his West London Free School chain, he’s been striving to raise standards for all. I also said that although our politics are very different, for example on Europe, we need more Tories on public bodies for balance.
On Wednesday evening last week, I appeared on The World Tonight and only then did I learn about the vile things that he’d been saying on Twitter and elsewhere. Maybe I should have known what he’d been writing about but I did not. I was still trying to assimilate this just before going on air, which is why I said "if indeed he’d written these things they were repellent".
On Tuesday this week I was asked to appear on the Today programme. By this time I had read fully in the press what he had been saying and I reached the conclusion, as I said on the programme, that there are two Toby Youngs. The first is a man of passionate commitment to social mobility, free speech and academic education for all. The second is someone who has written degrading comments, seemingly on an industrial scale.
I said on Today that this ruled him out, because you cannot have someone on a public education body who has made grossly offensive comments for so long, even if he has apologised.
In fact, nothing I have done in my career suggests I could possible support his degrading comments. On the contrary, and very visibly on the record, I have tried for many years to champion well-being, kindness, character education and respect for all.
Ironically, few have been as scathing of all I have tried to fight for over 10 and more years than Toby Young himself.
I still think Toby Young (type one) will be a loss to higher education, and I hope the OfS will find someone with a similar robust outsider viewpoint on the sector. But I confess that I simply don’t understand the mindset of someone who could have written the tweets he wrote.
So why did I change my mind? Because the evidence presented to me changed. These are the facts that I’ve decided to put on the record. People are free to condemn me or not but I’d like them to do so not on the basis of conjecture, but on the truth of what I did.
Sir Anthony Seldon is vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham.