Durham University to investigate Rod Liddle speech walk-out

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Columnist Rod Liddle was invited to address the Christmas formal

Durham University is to investigate after a columnist's appearance at an event led some students to walk out.

Rod Liddle had been invited by the principal of South College to address its Christmas formal on Friday evening.

Some left before he made his speech, with those who exited branded "pathetic" by the college principal.

Mr Liddle told the BBC that university students need to listen to views "that are contrary" to their own opinions, and that it was about "tolerance".

The university said it was looking into the situation as "a matter of urgency".

The principal of South College, Prof Tim Luckhurst, described Mr Liddle, a former BBC Radio 4 Today programme editor who now writes for The Spectator and The Times, as a "humourist".

'Tolerant manner'

Students were unaware who the speaker was beforehand, and when they realised some left in advance of his speech.

Durham University student newspaper Palatinate reported that Mr Liddle had started his speech saying he was disappointed not to see any sex workers, referencing a university initiative which had provided safety training for students working within the industry.

Prof Luckhurst told those who walked out that their actions were "pathetic", and he was described as being "verbally abusive", telling one student that they "didn't belong at university".

An open letter by the Durham Intersectional Feminism Society, Durham LGBT+ Association, Durham University Labour Club and Durham Womxn's Association has now been sent to the university's vice-chancellor.

Signed by about 1,500 students, it calls for an apology from Prof Luckhurst for "inviting an inappropriate speaker and proceeding to taunt students, showing a complete disregard for student welfare", and for a rule to be put in place that students should be made aware of any speakers in attendance.

Prof Luckhurst later told the student newspaper that "sincere commitment to freedom of speech was inevitably challenging", and his own intention was "never to offend", but "to stimulate robust discussion and debate".

"I regret any offence that has arisen, but I fear we have no right not to be offended," he added.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
South College is the university's newest college

In a statement, Durham University said: "The university categorically does not agree with the comments reported from a speech given by an external speaker at this occasion, and is concerned at reports that the behaviours exhibited at the occasion fall short of those that we expect.

"The exchange of ideas within the university should at all times be conducted in a tolerant manner.

"Everybody has the right to live, work and study in a respectful environment.

"We are looking into this as a matter of urgency, and an investigation into the circumstances is now under way."

Mr Liddle told the BBC: "If you are at university you need to listen to views that are contrary to your own opinions and that's what my speech was about. It was about tolerance."

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