In June, the establishment of the Gender Critical Research Network initiated a conversation across the University about how we meet our commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech whilst ensuring we consider the impact of our words on each other in our community.
The Vice-Chancellor’s Executive found that the formation of the GCRN was compatible with academic freedom, while also acknowledging that some staff found the content of the group’s work to be challenging or concerning.
The University must always recognise and respect the legal duties placed upon us with regard to free speech and equality rights as set out in the Education Act (No 2) 1986, the Education Reform Act 1988, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010, the Charities Act 2011 and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. We all have a duty to uphold freedom of expression and academic freedom.
Since this decision, we have undertaken a complete independent review of our policies and procedures in this area and we will now consult our recognised trade unions on our proposed changes.
Our Dean for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and our Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research, Enterprise and Scholarships) have been holding meetings with a variety of colleagues to ascertain ways in which the University can have this conversation in a collegiate way that respects the rights of all those involved.
This work has been exceptionally challenging both due to the polarising nature of the issue and the hesitancy of some key stakeholders to engage in the process, but our efforts to find an agreed way forward continue.
We have also offered an enhanced level of support to all staff and students who have been affected by this discussion, by providing specialist advisors within student support and counselling for staff. Any colleague that requires support should ask for help, which will be provided.
You may have seen articles in the press on these issues, related to the OU and more widely at other institutions nationwide. While we cannot comment on specific cases, we would like to reiterate that any individual who has concerns about their treatment should raise these issues with their line manager or People Services (email@example.com) and be assured that they will be investigated thoroughly and fairly, in line with our processes.
We will continue to listen to all voices as we make progress in creating an environment where everyone understands their right to speak robustly and candidly, in a way that is consistent with the University’s values and standards of behaviour around respect and civility.