Friday, May 15, 2009
Cambridge University dons are in a snit.
The university recently amended its equal opportunities policy to stress respectfor religious or philosophical beliefs of all kinds and its opposition to discrimination. The policy now reads:
The university's core values are freedom of thought and expression and freedom from discrimination.
It therefore respects religious or philosophical beliefs of all kinds, including the lack of religion or belief.
It also respects the right of all members of its community to discuss and debate freely issues of religion, belief, and philosophy. So far as is practicable, the university will attempt to accommodate requests for adjustments to accommodate religious observance.
The university has no duty under this legislation to 'promote religion and belief equality', merely a duty not to discriminate when hiring staff or admitting students – which we stopped doing in 1877.
The unfortunate wording of this policy might be interpreted to suggest that Cambridge is to promote the equality of evolution with creationism, or of cosmology with shepherds' tales.
We must never accept any duty to promote the equality of truth and falsehood.
This is very much an environment where people can challenge established belief and express thoughts which will challenge the faithful.
We should not allow ideas to be snuffed out in fear of causing offence.
Meanwhile, David Goode, president of the Cambridge branch of the University and College Union, criticized the university for failing to carry out an "equality impact assessment" (!) and for not involving the Union in discussions. However, Goode added:
Cambridge UCU is nonetheless pleased that the policy has been produced, and that the university has made a clear and concise commitment to freedom of thought and expression, and freedom from discrimination in respect of religious or philosophical beliefs or lack thereof.
But perhaps he knows better how the university will interpret the policy.
It therefore respects religious or philosophical beliefs of all kinds, including the lack of religion or belief.Perhaps the Cambridge dons should read Simon Blackburn's essay on Religion and Respect
The same general rules apply to guests I invite into my home and I would only confront them or oust them if their behavior reaches a level far above what I'd tolerate from someone in public discourse.
A university is something between an open public forum and a person's home, since it is designed to invite sharing of knowledge and viewpoints in a collegial setting but still intended to foster open debate.