The most senior academic at Oxford University has attacked the institution’s “safe space” culture.
Professor Louise Richardson, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, said that “cossetted” students need to learn to face up to political views which might differ from their own.
Richardson, an expert on terrorism, blamed indulgent parents and the echo chamber of social media for acclimatizing students to an atmosphere where they always get their way.
Her comments emerged in a recent interview with the Irish Times, where she also spoke disapprovingly of the “no-platforming” movement to ban controversial speakers from campus.
She said: “It may be that middle-class children have been too cosseted by their professional parents… and it may be in part accentuated in social media where we tend to operate within an echo chamber of like-minded people.”
Her intervention comes as another high-profile university head took the opposite stance.
Morton Schapiro, the president of Northwestern University in Illinois, recently defended safe spaces.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said he “loves” safe spaces because they let students feel strong enough to “engage” with other views. He also said that protecting the First Amendment “isn’t absolute”.
Richardson – who was educated at the elite Trinity College, Dublin in her native Ireland – also revealed that she took part in campus protests when she was a student.
She said that she and other residents on her single-gender accommodation block played a prank on their resident porter – whose job was to make sure no men could sneak in.
While he was out, Richardson admitted covering his rooms with posters saying “contraceptive services available here” – an act of rebellion in Ireland, where abortion remains entirely illegal.
Oxford has seen its fair share of campus controversies in recent years.
Trigger warnings are now a feature of everyday education, with criminal law students given the chance to walk out of lectures if they discuss rape.
The university was also the site of the (unsuccessful) Rhodes Must Fall movement, which saw students call for a statue of British Imperialist and major Oxford donor Cecil Rhodes to be torn down.
Towards the end of last year it emerged that Oxford has an official policy to eliminate the use of “Mr” and “Mrs” while promoting “neo-pronouns” like “xe”.
More recently, the university came under fire for issuing a microaggressions guide which noted that not making eye contact with somebody could be an act of racism.