University safe spaces 'mad' and 'oxymoronic' Oxford chancellor says

University safe spaces are ‘mad’ and ‘oxymoronic’, Oxford’s chancellor Lord Patten says in rallying cry for free speech on campus

  • Chancellor Lord Patten indicated he was not massive fan of ‘safe space’ culture
  • He branded the concept ‘oxymoronic’ and ‘mad’ in chat, also slating government

The Chancellor of Oxford University has savaged the concept of safe spaces on the UK’s campuses.

Lord Patten – Hong Kong’s former governor – unleashed a broadside at the idea, branding them ‘mad’ and ‘oxymoronic’ in a blistering attack. 

He went on to rail against people who saw arguments as attacks on them and urged that free speech should be protected.

And during the interview – held with the Oxford Student newspaper – he also moved to slate David Cameron and George Osborne over their stances on China.

Lord Patten said: ‘I’m an old-fashioned liberal and I believe that free speech and tolerance are one of the most important values in an open society.

Chancellor Lord Patten indicated he was not massive fan of ‘safe space’ culture in an interview

‘The only thing that you shouldn’t tolerate is intolerance. If universities aren’t bastions of free speech, who’s going to be? And it means that ‘no platforming’, a pretty graceless phrase, should be anathema. When people talk about safe spaces intellectually at universities, it’s mad. It’s oxymoronic. That’s not what universities are all about.’

‘When I was an undergraduate, my moral tutor was a Marxist atheist, and there was I, a Catholic scholarship boy from a moderately right-wing, lower-middle-class family. Did that ruin me? Did that astonish me? The truth is that I think what you should learn at university, among other things, is that an argument isn’t the same as a quarrel.

‘I hope what we do at a good university is to give people the intellectual confidence and ability to argue tolerantly with people who don’t agree with them.’

Lord Patten is the Chancellor of Oxford University and has savaged the concept of safe spaces

Lord Patten also turned his gaze onto how the West had treated China in the nineties.

He opined: ‘There was this [western] delusion, which was fed by the hubristic notion when the Soviet Union collapsed and when China joined the global economy, that it was the end of history.’

But he did have some positive views on the new vice-chancellor of Oxford, Professor Irene Tracey. 

He said: ‘I think she got the job because she’s got a terrific academic reputation and because she understands Oxford probably better than almost anybody else.

‘She’s one of those people who manages to be both nice and decisive sometimes.’

Oxford University was contacted for further comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

Lord Patten’s thoughts come four months after the university’s outgoing vice chancellor warned some students now believe in ‘a right not to be offended’.

Professor Dame Louise Richardson said that freedom of speech was ‘pretty robust’ at the elite institution.

But there was an ‘unfortunate’ view among certain undergraduates that they cannot be upset by opposing opinions, she added.

The 64-year-old political scientist’s comments come amid rising numbers of woke rows at campuses across the country and attempts to restrict free speech.

Professor Richardson told Oxford’s Cherwell student newspaper: ‘In my matriculation speech, I say to every incoming student that this is a place where you can expect to hear views that you don’t like, and I exhort them to follow the Augustinian precept of ‘audi alteram partem’ – hear the other side.’

She added: ‘I wouldn’t say students are too comfortable, but there is a view amongst some students – and it’s not all students – there is a right not to be offended.

‘I think that’s unfortunate. Education is all about being uncomfortable, about being challenged with views that you hadn’t considered or encountered before and figuring out your position.’

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