Education

Durham University’s Rod Liddle ‘transphobia’ row reaches fever pitch with furious protest

Vic Parsons December 9, 2021
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Durham University students protest after walking out of a Rod Liddle speech

Students at Durham University protested for a 'safer, more inclusive' campus on 8 December. (Theo Burman)

Hundreds of students have demanded a “safe, more inclusive” campus during a protest at Durham University.

On Wednesday (8 December), more than 300 students turned out to a demonstration on the South College campus at Durham University after students, who walked out of a speech by right-wing Spectator associate editor Rod Liddle on 3 December, were called “pathetic” by their principal, professor Tim Luckhurst.

Signs reading “Luckhurst out” and “Tim out” – reminiscent of the “Stock Out” campaign fought by LGBT+ students at the University of Sussex against professor Kathleen Stock – were visible, alongside a series of placards that spelled “Pathetic”.

In a protest flyer shared online, the students said: “This is a protest about staff misconduct and a failure of safeguarding procedures.” Demands made at the protest included Luckhurst’s resignation.

“While Rod Liddle was mentioned frequently, Tim Luckhurst also received a lot of focus,” Theo Burman, who covered the protest as news editor of Durham’s student paper, Palatinate, told PinkNews.

“His [Luckhurst’s] defence of Liddle came at the expense of his students’ wellbeing, and as a principal of a college that has to be his priority,” Burman continued. “We saw lots of criticism in the press about ‘woke’ students trying to tear down Durham, but anyone listening would have been able to tell that the students at South have a genuine love for their college and community, which they just want to protect from hate.”

Saray Imlach, one of the organisers of the protest but not a South College student herself, told PinkNews that she was at the protest because of “a lack of pastoral care” on the part of Luckhurst.

“I believe wholeheartedly that Tim was wrong to blindside my fellow students with the hateful rhetoric that his friend Roderick Liddle was spewing,” Imlach said. “I have a duty to my fellow students, especially those from minority groups, to support them, and that’s why I stood in solidarity with them and the staff members that showed up.

“I am an active political person; I believe in free speech and giving platforms to people that want to speak – in that sense, I was at the protest because I was supporting those whose voices were silenced, called ‘pathetic’ or who were harassed by Tim and his wife.”

Durham University students protest after walking out of a Rod Liddle speech
Students at Durham University protested for a ‘safer, more inclusive’ campus on 8 December. (Theo Burman)

“If Tim resigns or is removed from his position, it shows that the use of privilege to spread transphobia, misogyny, classism, racism, homophobia, or any kind of discrimination is never acceptable and is challenged,” Imlach said, backing other students’ calls for Luckhurst to resign.

Labour MP backs Durham University students

Local Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy backed the student’s demands for a safer campus.

Responding to a statement by the Durham students union that said “it’s never OK for a college principal to calls students ‘pathetic'”, Foy said: “Nobody has a right to a platform, especially when they have repeatedly expressed objectionable views.

“Rod Liddle should not have been invited to speak at South College and I’ll be raising this with the vice-chancellor and will be asking to be kept informed of the investigation.”

The protest included testimonies from students who walked out during Liddle’s speech and from those who spoke to Luckhurst and his wife afterwards.

Sean Hannigan, president of South College’s student common room, was the first to speak. Hannigan said Liddle’s remarks were “deliberately inflammatory” and told protestors “we must resist”, according to Palatinate.

Durham University students walked out ‘over Rod Liddle caution for assault on pregnant partner’

Around a dozen Durham University students walked out of the 3 December formal Christmas dinner at South College after learning that Rod Liddle would be making an after-dinner speech – they were not told in advance of the event, which they paid £10 for tickets to, that Liddle would be speaking.

During Liddle’s speech, several more students walked out, and afterwards those remaining sat silently instead of standing and applauding, as is university custom for guest speakers.

Students told PinkNews that they walked out after looking Liddle up and learning that he previously accepted a police caution for assaulting his pregnant partner.

Liddle opened his speech by making a joke about sex workers, before saying: “A person with an X and a Y chromosome, that has a long, dangling penis, is scientifically a man, and that is pretty much, scientifically, the end of the story.”

Liddle went on to say that colonialism “is not remotely the major cause of Africa’s problems” and that the “educational underachievement” of Black students is “nothing to do with institutional or structural racism”. He also criticised single parents, saying that the children of single mothers should be “taken by the state”.

Rod Liddle demands ‘grovelling apology’

The principal of South College at Durham University, professor Tim Luckhurst – a long-time friend of Rod Liddle’s who had invited him to make the speech – shouted “pathetic” as students left and he and his wife, Dorothy, were later filmed mocking students and calling them “arses” for leaving.

In videos shared on social media, Luckhurst can be heard defending Liddle to students after his speech by saying “Rod is a humorist”. He later apologised and has now been barred from his duties by Durham University pending an investigation.

Speaking on GB News, Liddle called the university’s handling of the situation “despicable” and demanded it issues a “grovelling apology” to Luckhurst and “reinstate him immediately to all his duties”. Liddle also demanded an apology for himself, accusing the university of “vilifying” his speech and “appeasing jabbering infants”.

“What they should do after that is write me a letter of apology and explain to me they were wrong to have vilified me in their comments about this whole affair and they might be better off in future rather than teaching extra courses to their students in how to become prostitutes, a course in good manners might not come amiss,” Liddle said.

More: durham university, Rod Liddle, transphobia

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