Censoring of debate opposed by lecturers

June 7, 2002

Plans by Cambridge University's governing council to censor speeches in Senate House discussions are being opposed by lecturers.

The discussions, which allow staff to be heard and their comments published, are seen as essential to the university's democratic structure. But senior managers have become alarmed by discussions descending into rows and personal attacks.

The council has proposed a rule change that would allow the vice-chancellor and senior officers to declare remarks made at the discussions "irrelevant", ensuring they are not published in The Reporter, the university's official publication. The vice-chancellor, or whichever senior colleague is chairing the discussions, would be allowed to declare remarks "out of order".

The move is widely seen as a way of preventing highly critical, public attacks on the university and its senior officers by a number of renegade dons.

But it has provoked a backlash from those keen to protect free speech. The board of scrutiny and the proctors have collected 11 signatures to put forward an alternative rule change that would reduce the scope for censorship.

Their version, which will be put to a staff ballot, says that all remarks made at discussion "shall normally be published", unless, with the agreement of the speaker, they are agreed to be defamatory.

A further 22 dons have signed a petition to drop the plan.

This will also be put to a ballot.

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