Academics self-censoring out of fear of being bullied, says Vice Chancellor

Universities are “lying to themselves” if they think they have no free speech problems, a prominent Vice Chancellor has admitted.

Universities are “lying to themselves” if they think they have no free speech problems, a prominent Vice Chancellor has admitted.

As reported in the Mail, Adam Habib, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, said higher education bosses have been guilty of a “failure to intervene” when people have been censored.

He was supported by the Vice Chancellor of Reading University, Robert Van de Noort, who said too many academics are “censoring themselves” to avoid being a “divergent voice in the echo chamber”.

Prof Habib’s comments, which came at an event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), are significant as many Vice Chancellors have previously refused to acknowledge there was an issue.

He pointed out that staff and students are now too “scared” to discuss issues such as “identity, trans and race” for fear of being bullied by activists.

He told the event: “We have a serious challenge of academic freedom in the UK. I think we’ve been lying to ourselves for a long while that we don’t have a problem.

“The problem is not as the government defines it; it’s a much more insidious problem where people are scared to speak on substantive issues around identity, trans, race and some political issues such as Israel/Palestine and Russia and Ukraine.

“In the last three years, I’ve been quite struck about how paralysed debate is in UK universities,” he added.

Prof Habib was himself a victim of cancel culture back in 2021 when he was attacked and suspended for using the ‘n-word’ in a webinar with students during a discussion about his institution’s response to the alleged use of racist language by another staff member.

Habib used the racial slur while explaining that if someone had used it “against somebody else” then it would violate university policy and action would be taken.

One of his students then cut him off, saying: “Adam, that’s not acceptable to be saying that in a meeting.”

Another, preternaturally long-lived student joined in, adding: “You’re not a black man, you cannot use that word. You have not faced the trauma and oppression of black bodies what we go through 24/7 for the last 500 years.”

Inevitably, a pile-on then ensued, with activist students at SOAS (i.e., pretty much the entire student body) excitedly calling for him to lose his career and livelihood.

An independent investigation, carried out by Judy Clements – the former Head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education – into his use of the term cost £110,000 and found no grounds for his dismissal.