I have received many messages in the last few days about the decision by the Faculty of Divinity to offer, and then rescind, a visiting fellowship to Professor Jordan Peterson. In light of these messages, I think it is important to set out some key facts and some reflections.

Robust debate can scarcely occur, for example, when some members of the community are made to feel personally attacked, not for their ideas but for their very identity.

Visiting fellowships are a courtesy extended to some academics from other institutions. They are unpaid, and are frequently awarded by our Faculties and Departments. They allow the visiting fellow to make use of University libraries, to attend Faculty or Departmental seminars, and to engage in research – though not to engage in lecturing or other teaching.

In this case, I understand the offer of a visiting fellowship for Professor Peterson was considered by the Research Committee of the University’s Faculty of Divinity in the normal way, and was granted on an academic basis.

Early last week, the Faculty became aware of a photograph of Professor Peterson posing with his arm around a man wearing a T-shirt that clearly bore the slogan “I’m a proud Islamophobe”. The casual endorsement by association of this message was thought to be antithetical to the work of a Faculty that prides itself in the advancement of inter-faith understanding.

As a consequence of this, the Faculty’s Research Committee reviewed its original decision to award a visiting fellowship and concluded that the offer should be rescinded. As is normal, neither the decision to invite Professor Peterson, nor to rescind the invitation, were brought to the attention of the senior leadership team until after they had been made.

I have been asked for my views. I would simply refer to a statement I issued almost exactly 10 years ago as Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia:

“As a university community, we place a paramount value on the free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints. As scholars, we believe that discussion across boundaries and across pre-conceptions is a necessary condition for the resolution of even the most intractable conflicts. At the same time, we are a community that values respect for all others, even those with whom we disagree fundamentally.

“For a university, anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable. Robust debate can scarcely occur, for example, when some members of the community are made to feel personally attacked, not for their ideas but for their very identity.”

This remains my sincere and unwavering belief, as I have made clear in a number of speeches since returning to Cambridge nearly two years ago. I am confident that this is a belief shared by most members of our university community. Some difficult decisions will always be necessary to ensure that our universities remain places of robust, often challenging and even uncomfortable dialogue, while balancing academic freedom with respect for members of our community.

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