All universities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. We therefore have a vital role to play in convening difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations on our campuses and through our online events, and in curating the spaces in which ideas that some may find challenging or unpopular can be expressed and debated. We are committed to enabling people 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.
Our revised Speaker Code of Practice is designed to ensure that we support academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. It means that we put measures in place for consultation, make available support for members in our community who may find some lawful views objectionable or offensive and enables lawful counter-speech and protest to be expressed appropriately, safely and peacefully.
Development of our new speaker code has been complemented by a wide-ranging review of other University policies. This includes revisions to our: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy; our approach to Supporting Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Staff; and a Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance Approach policy revised in December 2021 and which is now in place. These policies are all publicly available on our website. We are also in the final stages of securing agreement from the privy Council to revisions we have proposed to our Royal Charter.
As part of a comprehensive range of actions agreed by the University’s Council, we are currently reviewing ‘Report and Support’, our system for reporting all forms of discrimination, bullying, hate incidents and harassment. We are also reviewing the University’s relationship with Stonewall. Thank you to students and staff for your responses to these recent consultations, which are currently being analysed, so that recommendations for any action required can be considered during the course of this academic year.
I know that having the right policies in place is vital in promoting the organisational culture that we want and in ensuring that the University acts lawfully. Our policies enable us to be unequivocal in setting out the behaviours that we expect and provide clear expectations for how we treat each other. But as I said at the beginning of the academic year, 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. We are working hard to ensure this is the case.
We will continue to keep our community updated on progress through updates to the webpages.
Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex
Anthony has been the Vice-Chancellor since 2012 and is a Professor of Politics and International Relations. His research focused on European and British foreign and security policy, and for four years Anthony was the Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union.