Lecturer told not to air dissent on same-sex ceremony ban

April 6, 2007

A Canterbury Christ Church University professor was criticised by his vice-chancellor for calling a debate over the institution's ban on same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, writes Melanie Newman.

Tony Booth, professor of inclusive education, said that Michael Wright, the vice-chancellor, had led him to believe that some issues were "out of bounds" for discussion as they conflicted with the university's ethos as a Church of England-founded institution.

Professor Booth had openly opposed Canterbury Christ Church's ban on civil marriage ceremonies for gay couples on campus. University governors voted to allow same-sex civil ceremonies last week.

Last October, Professor Booth arranged a meeting for colleagues in the faculty of education to discuss the ban. He subsequently received an e-mail from the vice-chancellor, which he said he found "somewhat intimidatory".

In the e-mail, seen by The Times Higher , Professor Wright writes that he is "disappointed" that Professor Booth arranged the meeting and says: "When you were interviewed for your post you were asked to confirm that you were sympathetic to Christ Church's position as a Church of England Foundation.

"As you know, this is not a question that related to your personal beliefs, but I believe it does extend to recognising that there are issues on which you ought to understand that particular considerations apply. This is one such issue."

Professor Booth said: "I interpreted the e-mail as suggesting that some issues were out of bounds for discussion." He added that he felt it amounted to "an attempt to curtail an ordinary discussion that I had initiated with colleagues in my faculty".

Professor Wright said: "There is nothing new in what has been said. The matter has been fully debated."

The decision last week by university governors to allow same-sex ceremonies on campus came days before new regulations came into force outlawing discrimination, including that on grounds of sexuality. The regulations are authorised by the Equality Act 2006.

Dennis Hayes, president of the University and College Union and head of Canterbury Christ Church's Centre for Professional Learning, said: "It should alert academics everywhere to the danger of importing external values, whether those of the church or of business, into the university, whose sole purpose is the pursuit of knowledge and truth without fear or favour."

As reported in The Times Higher on March 16, the university's articles of governance state that academics' freedom to question received wisdom is subject to a qualification: that they do not undermine the institution's ethos as a Church of England college.

As part of negotiations with the UCU on staff terms and conditions last year, university management reached an agreement to drop the caveat.

But when Dr Hayes proposed a motion to the governing body in July 2006 to confirm the agreement, his proposal was rejected.

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