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Don’t raise your eyebrow, academics told

Don’t raise your eyebrow, academics told.

Under new guidelines issued by the pro vice-chancellor Cambridge academics could be reported to the university for raising their eyebrows at black students. Dons could also be committing a “micro-aggression” if they turn their backs on certain people, give backhanded compliments, or refer to a woman as a girl.

The university published the list of potential offences on a website it launched for academics and students to report “inappropriate” behaviour. The site has been created as part of a broader “Change the Culture” initiative which includes a series of new policies, tools and resources aimed at “clarifying expectations” about behaviour. Cambridge University’s new behaviour resources explain that micro-aggressions are everyday “slights, indignities, put-downs and insults” that minority groups are subjected to. The resource explains that these can be either intentional or unintentional and that perpetrators can often be “unaware” that they have offended. A list of examples includes asking someone “where are you really from?” and “mis-gendering” someone.

Dons have accused the university of trampling over free speech adding that the reporting system will foster a culture “akin to that of a police state”. Speaking to a leading broadsheet one academic said: “Heated disagreement on many academic subjects is likely to become impossible. They have effectively laid out the pitchforks and it is now up to the woke mob to pick them up”.

Academics and students can choose whether they want to leave their contact details or remain anonymous when using the “Report and Support” site to make allegations about inappropriate behaviour. Dons fear the new system could be “weaponised” by those seeking to undermine someone they may disagree with one academic stating: “The anonymous process is likely to be abused by maliciously targeting individuals, given how easy it will be to make false accusations that tarnish an individual’s reputation without repercussion. It will be an absolute nightmare.”

Cambridge dons prevailed in a free speech row in December 2020 after voting down an attempt by university chiefs to force them to be “respectful of the diverse identities of others”. Three amendments, put forward by academics who said they wanted to safeguard free speech at the 800-year-old institution, were voted through. Cambridge University’s Council proposed a series of updates to free speech rules but academics argued that the changes were “authoritarian” and would endanger free speech rather than protect it. One academic said this vote showed that the vast majority of Cambridge academics are in favour of “classic liberal values of tolerance” but added: “Yet within a matter of months, the university has rolled out a system that is so obviously contradictory in spirit to the core values of free speech.”

General secretary of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young, said: “Cambridge University has just put a robust new free speech policy in place, which the vice-chancellor has welcomed. Why, then, has he approved this sinister new reporting system?”

in News