Over the summer we have undertaken considerable work to implement the Council agreed actions arising from a review of issues raised by two events: the cancellation of a Centre for Criminology seminar and arrangements for speaker invitations to a Holocaust Memorial Week event. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this absolutely vital work.

The University is committed to enabling members of our community to speak freely within the law by providing a supportive and inclusive environment within which people can expect to learn, grow and develop through challenge. This means that our community may encounter ideas or arguments which may be experienced as objectionable or offensive but that a line will be drawn at conduct which is unlawful or contrary to the University’s policies and values.

To ensure that this is the case, following Senate and Council meetings in September 2021, we are recommending to the Privy Council an amendment to our Royal Charter. In addition, we have updated a number of policies including: our Speaker Code of Practice, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy, our approach to Supporting Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Staff, and our Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance Approach statement. These are publicly available on our web site.

As a University we have a specific responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, and to ensure that a diversity of voices and views can be heard on our campuses. We have a vital role to play in convening difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, and in curating the spaces in which ideas that some may find challenging or unpopular can be expressed and debated. Our new Speaker Code of Practice will launch later this term. It is designed to ensure that we support academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, while putting measures in place for consultation and counter-speech and making available support for members in our community who may find some lawful views objectionable or offensive. Our current speaker code remains in place until the new one replaces it.

The University wants to celebrate our diversity of staff and students, promote inclusion, well-being, resilience and empowerment to enable every member to achieve their full potential. To this end we have enhanced our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy, our Supporting Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Staff guidance and our Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance statement. In a number of areas our policies go beyond the minimum requirement of the law. The minimum requirement we have is that we must act lawfully and ensure through our policies and procedures that we are operating within the current law. However, there are areas where we can go beyond the law as it currently stands, provided that the way we do so is lawful and we have taken the opportunity to do this in order to recognise, respect, and protect all our members' identities.

Having the right policies in place is vital in ensuring that the University acts lawfully and unequivocally in setting out the behaviours that we expect, with clear expectations for how we treat each other, and in doing so, promoting the organisational culture that we want. But policies are only effective if our staff and students are aware of them and know how to use them –and only then can they be effective in shaping the lived experience of our community. This is what we must ensure happens and our Council will regularly review progress to ensure this is the case.

We will keep our community updated on progress as we continue to implement the Council agreed actions arising from a review of the issues raised by the two events. We will do this through updates to the webpages.

Information for students: https://www.essex.ac.uk/student/event/review-of-two-events-involving-external-speakers-students

Information for staff: https://www.essex.ac.uk/staff/event/review-of-two-events-involving-external-speakers-staff