As reported very recently in the Oxford Times, Louise Richardson has said, “I have had many conversations with students who have come to me and say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in the classroom with somebody with those views.
“And I say ‘I’m sorry, but my job is not to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. In fact, I’m interested in making you uncomfortable. And if you don’t like his views, you challenge them and engage with them and figure out how a smart person like that can have views like that. And figure out how you can persuade him to change his mind’.
Interestingly, she expressed such views sometime ago, in Jan 2016, as you can see in the video below.
Her recent remarks were met with the sort of views one would think would have already led her to modify her speech at least. As the New Statesman said:
Richardson’s advice to “work out how you can persuade him to change his mind” relies on the false assumption that hatred can be overcome by a sophisticated line of argument. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think that a “smart person” can only hate others based on their sexuality (or race, or religion) because no one has debated them skilfully enough to change their minds…
It’s hardly surprising that, at a time when 20 homophobic hate crimes are reported every day, university students feel uncomfortable about tutors who disagree with homosexuality… Her comments also demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how power relationships work. There is, on occasion, some value in exposing bigoted views by preserving freedom of speech, but a tutor-student scenario is vastly different from usual contexts in which this could occur. How is a student meant to feel confident enough to debate their own identity with the professor who will mark their final exams?
Richardson is a representative of a university known to be a reserve of the straight, white, male elite. Her comments are symptomatic of an institution which encourages marginalised groups to see no structural problems, but only problems with themselves. They reinforce the idea that students who are members of minority groups are only welcome in academic spaces if they conceal their identities, or offer them up for debate.
As of now, however, there seems a standoff of sorts, one that leaves on unclear about how she sees the relationship between speech and action.
From the Telegraph:
Meanwhile an open letter to the vice-Chancellor, which gained over 2,000 signatures from students, staff and alumni, warned that her remarks could make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel “unsafe” at university.
Now Prof Richardson has now issued a statement on the university website saying it is a “matter of great regret” that her comments are “being used to call into question this impressive, sustained endeavour to make Oxford a diverse and inclusive university”.