Fri 21 May 21
Academic freedom is a fundamental commitment at the heart of our mission at the University of Essex. Freedom of speech within the law is an essential part of academic and University life and flourishes where there is tolerance of, and respect for, a wide range of views and beliefs. We also strive to be an inclusive community for all members, regardless of background or characteristics.
We have around 1,500 external speaker events each year. In December 2019 an event was cancelled and subsequently a decision taken not to re-invite the speaker who was due to speak at the cancelled seminar. For this to have occurred was a matter of serious concern for the University. The Vice-Chancellor commissioned an independent review (the Review) into the circumstances surrounding this event. In early 2020 a decision was taken to withdraw an invitation to a speaker to a separate event, although this decision was subsequently reversed. This incident was added to the scope of the Review. The remit was approved by the University’s Senate and Council and a barrister who specialises in discrimination law was appointed to undertake the Review. The Review has now been received and considered by Senate and Council.
The University accepts the need to take actions that have been developed in response to each of the recommendations made in the Review. In both cases, the University of Essex fell short in living up to our commitments to staff, students and external speakers, to uphold academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. We are sorry and want to ensure this does not happen again.
On behalf of the University, the Vice-Chancellor has issued an open apology to each of Professor Phoenix and Professor Freedman. In addition, changes will be made to University policies and procedures, notably the External Speaker Code of Practice, the University’s procedures and guidance on Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff, and on Zero Tolerance of Harassment and Bullying.
The University will also reiterate to staff and students its commitment: to providing a supportive and inclusive environment within which people can expect to learn, grow and develop through challenge; that this means that they 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.
On behalf of the University, the Vice-Chancellor is offering an open apology to staff and students regarding the procedural and other failings that have occurred in relation to the two events covered in the Reindorf Report, and for any distress caused. We are also committed to taking a range of actions to address the impact of these events on members of our community. This will include consulting with our community to devise and ensure implementation of a strategy for repairing relationships amongst University members. The Vice-Chancellor apologises to members of our community for any distress that has resulted from these failings by the University.
You can read the Vice-Chancellor’s blog which considers some of the difficult issues raised by the review.
Our action plan in response to the review is being implemented and good progress is being made. You can keep up to date on our progress in delivering the actions on our website. We will update on progress following our Council and Senate meetings in September at which revised policies and procedures will be approved for implementation prior to the start of the new academic year
The report covers material relating to gender that some readers may find distressing or triggering. We have put in place a number of measures to provide support for members of our community who may be affected directly or indirectly by the issues raised.
The Report has been redacted using specialist legal expertise from the University’s legal advisors, working closely with the University, to protect the personal data of individuals who contributed to the Review, and in line with the University’s obligations under the applicable data protection laws. As the Facts and Evidence section covers, in detail, contributions made by named or otherwise identifiable witnesses, this part of the Report has been redacted in full. The remaining sections’ content has been redacted where appropriate. Personal data appearing in these sections that is already in the public domain was not redacted as it is deemed disclosed to the world at large. The specialist legal advisors have not altered the structure or content of the Report.
The Review covers two events, one from 5 December 2019 and the second from January 2020. The Review was commissioned on 9 December 2019, in response to the circumstances surrounding the Centre for Criminology seminar. Its remit was extended on 27 January 2020 to include the circumstances relating to the Holocaust Memorial Week event. The review process was undertaken in exact accordance with the Terms of Reference, which were endorsed by the University’s Senate and approved by its Council in February 2020.
The search for a reviewer began in February 2020. Due to the nature of the review, it took more time than had been expected to find and appoint both a suitable reviewer and the External Expert Panel. The COVID-19 pandemic also created unforeseen challenges. The Terms of Reference were updated in June 2020 to revise the timeline because of this. No other changes were made. A robust recruitment process was followed for appointment to all roles, requiring approval from a panel of representatives from the University. The review author was appointed in August 2020 and the External Expert Panel was confirmed in March 2021. Following comments from the External Expert Reference Group, received in April 2021, and production of the final draft report, a detailed redaction process was undertaken using specialist, legal expertise, to protect the personal data not already in the public domain of those named or otherwise identifiable. The Report was shared with the University’s Senate and Council on 17 May 2021. It was published on 18 May 2021, within 24 hours of consideration by the committees.
We have responded to an open letter to re-iterate points about the process of the review, reasons for redaction and our next steps. See our response.
The Review noted that that a flyer had been circulating on campus on December 5 2019 and that the flyer bore violent and profane imagery and the words “SHUT THE **** UP, ****”.
The University is clear that the circulation of such materials is entirely inappropriate in any circumstances, and we condemn the use of this flyer. Should any similar materials be reported on campus in future, they will be subject to formal investigation that may be dealt with by way of disciplinary action.
All new staff and students are introduced to our culture and values, and to the standards of behaviour and respect we expect from all of our community. Our regular staff and student communications will continue to be used to reinforce these values.
Published on: 18 May 2021
Next review due: 18 May 2022