Beyond belief

December 5, 2013

Open letter to the UK’s vice-chancellors

Dear vice-chancellors, you should repudiate unequivocally the abhorrent guidance on external speakers recently issued by the publicly funded body that claims to represent you: Universities UK (The week in higher education, 28 November). This document mandates any British university to accede unconditionally to the conditions imposed by any external speaker who demands a gender-segregated audience. Indeed, in the UUK document’s Orwellian newspeak, it is the “imposition” of an “unsegregated” area contravening the “genuinely-held religious belief” of the speaker demanding segregation that British universities should oppose so that the “freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully”.

Do you really want your female students to be treated as sex objects and second-class citizens, and to be marshalled into special female-only pens so that the “genuinely-held religious belief” of external speakers is not challenged? Would you have acceded to the Dutch Reformed Church’s demand for race-segregated congregations before it apologised for its role in propping up apartheid?

Universities’ role is to produce and diffuse knowledge free from interference: historically, this has been achieved by challenging, not by pandering to, religious belief. The bureaucrats at UUK seem to have forgotten that precisely because of “genuinely-held religious belief”, there was a time when Catholics, Jews and women (to mention but three) were not allowed into British universities. If you do not disown immediately this odious document, you will be betraying the culture that, over the course of centuries and thanks to the efforts of countless independent thinkers, has elevated British universities from bastions of religious privilege to beacons of intellectual freedom.

Manfredi La Manna
Reader in economics
University of St Andrews

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations