Oxford University chief won’t apologise for homophobia ‘not my job’ comments
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford has insisted she was “misunderstood” when she claimed it’s not her job to tackle homophobic staff members.
Professor Louise Richardson, who heads the prestigious university, came under fire for comments she made at an education summit earlier this week.
The university chief had said claimed she had “many conversations with students” who were concerned that professors held homophobic views, but them “my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable”, telling the students to “engage with them [and] change his mind.”
The comments attracted strong criticism from LGBT people, with activists pointing out that academics who hold homophobic beliefs are likely to violate the Equality Act if they discriminate against prospective gay students.
Others questioned whether Professor Richardson similarly believes the onus is on black students to ‘prove’ to racist professors that they are wrong.
In a statement today, the university chief responded to the criticism – but conspicuously failed to apologise for her remarks.
She wrote: “It is a matter of great regret to me that my words are being used to call into question this impressive, sustained endeavour to make Oxford a diverse and inclusive university. I am proud of everything we do in this regard and I give it, as I always have, my wholehearted support.
She added: “There has also been some reporting in the press, and a great deal of reaction on social media.
“I might have hoped that my track record over many years of speaking out against discrimination in all its forms would have answered some of those concerns, but I can see that I need to be crystal clear about where I stand.”
However, rather than be “crystal clear” about where she stands, she instead asked two diversity chiefs to “set out the principles which guide us”. The two officials recounted the university’s commitments to diversity.
The LGBTQ Society said: “[We] vehemently condemn her statement.
“Her statement published on the University website in no way acknowledges the damage her comments have caused and will continue to do so.
“The lack of retraction of her original statement is disgraceful and we condemn her and the University for thinking this was an appropriate way to respond.
“We would like to highlight that no where in her 528 word statement does Vice-Chancellor Richardson acknowledge her comments made earlier this week.
“As Vice-Chancellor of such a large and powerful institution as Oxford University it is not enough to rely on the work of others and hope such endeavours will justify her earlier comments.
“This statement is simply a non apology, a way of pushing under the rug what she has previously said.
“It is not about the ‘regret’ Vice-Chancellor Richardson feels, it is about the potential harm and ostracisation her words have had on the LGBTQ+ community at Oxford University.”
The student union LGBTQ Campaign itself has hit out at the statement, describing it as inadequate.
The group said: “Her statement does not accept accountability and does not respond to any of the arguments of the student body, and to this extent we are deeply dissatisfied.
“The LGBTQ+ Campaign was especially dismayed by the Vice-Chancellor’s decision to ignore the uproar her comments have caused amongst students, only citing ‘a number of colleagues from around the University’ in her statement.
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“Through targeting her public statement at her colleagues and the academic community, the Vice-Chancellor displays a distinct lack of consideration for the students whom her comments directly affect.”
The group added: “We hope to meet with the Vice-Chancellor very soon and remain optimistic that she will engage in an open minded discussion.
“The LGBTQ+ Campaign again reiterates our request that the Vice-Chancellor should apologise for the harm she has caused, and express our sadness that her response has failed to engage with the points we have raised.”
Gay Oxford politician Cllr Tom Hayes, who penned an open letter to the university chief, added: “It’s a real shame that she stands by her view that it’s not her job to tackle homophobia and wrongly suggests public concerns are unfair or insignificant.
“Unfortunately, my letter to the Vice-Chancellor remains relevant, and will continue to be relevant as long as she doesn’t retract her comments – it’s unacceptable for students to face tutors passing off discrimination as debate. The Vice-Chancellor’s response can be found here.”