Durham students target open days in protest over Rod Liddle speech

The students said they are ‘standing up to a management indifferent to marginalised students and staff’.

23 March 2022

Durham University students have targeted post-offer visit days to raise concerns in a dispute over a speech given by columnist Rod Liddle at a dinner last year.

Students walked out of the event at South College during the columnist’s speech in December, and South College principal Professor Tim Luckhurst was criticised for calling them “pathetic” for the boycott.

According to a report from student newspaper Palatinate, during his after-dinner speech Liddle said that when it comes to gender, the left is against “science or pure facts”, adding: “A person with an X and a Y chromosome, that has a long, dangling penis, is scientifically a man, and that is pretty much, scientifically, the end of the story.”

Durham protests
(Tim Packer/PA)

In January, the university refused to comment on the result of its investigation into the row, and said only that it would be “inappropriate to comment on what remains a confidential and ongoing process”.

Earlier this month, the university released a statement saying it would review its processes for engaging with external speakers, adding that it does not intend “to exclude any speakers from our campus” but confirmed it would not be publishing details of Prof Luckhurst’s involvement in the incident.

On Tuesday, dozens of student protesters and offer day ambassadors joined staff striking as part of the University and College Union’s demands for improved pay, pensions and working conditions.

South College student Niall Hignett, an organiser of the protests, told the PA news agency: “The collective strength of students and staff couldn’t be more clearly showcased than during these post-offer visit days.

“We are protesting, with students from every demographic standing up to a management indifferent to marginalised students and staff. Staff are joining us, striking for their pensions and the four fights, which decisively overlap with our ambitions for a fairer, more equitable higher education sector.”

In a letter from the UCU dated March 15 to the university’s vice-chancellor, Karen O’Brien, the UCU said that during a “celebratory social event” students were “subjected to deliberately provocative and hateful speech”.

The UCU said the report into the event had never been released, which it described as “a slap in the face to members of the university community who have respected the process”.

“In its silence, the university is sending a powerful message about its commitment ‘to providing a safe place to live, work and study for all’ once the glare of the media has waned. We deserve better,” it added.

Lewis Bolding, a second year natural sciences student and open day ambassador, who was striking, said: “Time and time again, the university has demonstrated complete disregard for the welfare of both its staff and its students. It is time for a reality check – uni executives must be shown that this behaviour is not sustainable.”

Around 40 students joined the protests on Tuesday, with 60 protesters joining from the UCU to target pay, pensions and working conditions.

A Durham University spokesperson said: “The views of our students are very important to us, and student leaders are involved in decision making right across the university including, ultimately, our governing University Council.

“We are, and remain, keen to engage with students to understand their views and work together on matters of importance to our community.

“We warmly welcome the many prospective students and their families visiting Durham this week. We hope they will be inspired by what they see and hear and they will make Durham their choice for the next stage of their education.”

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