Friday, 1 Mar 2024

Woke university brands phrase ‘Christian name’ offensive

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In its guidance, the University of Kent instructs students to “avoid the term ‘Christian name’ – rather use ‘first name, given name, forename or personal name”. Later in the dossier under the sub-heading of Religion and Belief, the university doubles down on the messages saying the students should “avoid using Christian-centric terms, not only on grounds of respect but also for practical reasons”.

It also states “surname is not unacceptable” but implies some difficulty with the word because it “may originate from sire-name, or the name derived from one’s father”. The document says “last name” should also be avoided because “it could be confusing to Asian groups who place their family name first”.

Tim Dieppe, Christian Concern’s head of public policy, told The Sun the university was “displaying an irrational fear of using the term ‘Christian’ as if it is something to be ashamed of”.

He told the paper: “Christianity has provided the moral and spiritual foundation for Western civilisation. This move to police language is another symptom of the abandonment of Christianity.”

Free Speech Union founder Toby Young said he believed the advice was cleansing the English language and it had been imported from American colleges.

He said: “You might even say we’ve been colonised … policing language is a hallmark of every totalitarian society.”

A statement from the University of Kent said it aimed to create and support a balanced, inclusive and diverse community. It read: “These are guidelines not policies.”

The Government have been monitoring university policies towards restricting langauge and enforcing guidance on students around free speech. Earlier this month ministers restored proposals to allow individuals to bring legal proceedings against universities or students’ unions that fail to comply with freedom of speech duties.

Peers in the House of Lords had voted to remove the relevant section, known as clause four, from the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, but MPs voted 283 to 161, majority 161, to overturn this decision.

Clause four, which has now been reinstated to the Bill, would allow a person to bring civil proceedings against a higher education provider, a constituent institution or a students’ union if it breaches its duties to protect freedom of speech.

It would enable an individual to seek redress for losses suffered as a result of those breaches. Concerns have been expressed that the new statutory tort – a civil wrong – would give rise to vexatious claims against universities and could bankrupt students’ unions.

The Bill as a whole aims to protect freedom of speech on university campuses, following a number of incidents where staff or students have faced threats and harassment. The Government confirmed it would accept a proposal from the Lords to ban universities from using gagging orders to cover up sexual abuse, bullying and harassment on campus.

Education minister Claire Coutinho said: “It will prohibit higher education providers and their constituent colleges from entering into non-disclosure agreements with staff members, students and visiting speakers in relation to complaints of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment or other forms of bullying or harassment.

“I believe that members on all sides of this House will also welcome the inclusion of this provision in the Bill.”

She added: “It can never be right to force a victim of sexual misconduct, bullying or harassment to remain silent, denying them the right to talk about what has happened to them even with their family or close friends.

“This doesn’t come down to politics in my view, it is about doing what is right.”

Shadow education minister Matt Western said Labour supported the removal of clause four as it would “free our world-class universities, student unions and students from the threat of costly, harmful litigation, and just as importantly, their unintended consequences”.

Conservative MP Gareth Bacon (Orpington) argued giving academics and students the power to sue universities for breaching their free speech rights gives “teeth” to the Bill.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, sitting as an Independent MP, said an important issue was “freedom of speech and the limits on it” and said codes of practice rather than threats of legal action was a better approach.

He said: “At what point do you allow a fascist, a Nazi to speak? At what point do you allow somebody that is a Holocaust-denier and so on to speak? Those are issues that are best dealt with by codes of practice rather than threats of legal action.

“And surely codes of practice within colleges, within universities and discussion and debate brings about a better resolution than enabling those who can afford it to take legal action and student unions being so frightened and so nervous of any action that might be taken against them, they simply go down the road of caution and reduce, limit and inhibit the student experience.”

The Bill will return to the Lords for further consideration.

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