Universities are robust spaces where “absurd and even obscene” views should be heard and exposed for what they are, the incoming Chancellor of Bristol University has said.
Sir Paul Nurse, who is due to be sworn in on Wednesday as the eighth chancellor of the red brick university, said he was not personally in favour of censorship in campuses as he felt students were intelligent enough to dissect the “inadequacies and nonsense that some people speak”.
The leading geneticist and cell biologist told the Press Association: “My personal view is that universities are a sophisticated environment where a range of opinions can be aired and attacked when necessary.
“I do happen to think that universities are robust enough where you have a highly intelligent set of individuals who can actually deal with a range of ideas, and when those ideas are unacceptable to a civilised society, which indeed some of them are, then they should be attacked and exposed for what they are.”
Sir Paul went on: “Anti-Semitism is obviously a plague… It is of course not acceptable to civilised society.
“But I happen to think that when people say absurd and even obscene things then I think that the best thing to do in a university setting is to expose them for what they are.
“That is possible in a university environment. They won’t be anywhere else.”
In October 2016 the Bristol student body voted narrowly to remain affiliated to the National Union of Students (NUS) in a referendum triggered by remarks made by the president, Malia Bouattia, which were widely criticised as anti-Semitic.
The university’s policy on freedom of speech places it “at the heart of its mission”, with the exception of when there are serious concerns about public disorder or the direct incitement of violence or hatred.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson has reportedly written to universities saying they must commit to protecting freedom of speech in a bid to clamp down on censorship.