Copy of response to Mark Smith and The Times, Thursday 20 April 2023
Thank you for your email, notice of the claims made by AFFS, and the opportunity to respond to these.
We have provided detailed answers to your questions, below.
From what you have put to us, it appears that AFFS has extrapolated partial pieces of information, largely from our own website and FoI responses, in an effort to contrive claims which are groundless. It does not acknowledge the whole truth.
St Andrews has a longstanding and unwavering commitment to the principle and practice of freedom of expression – it is a central tenet in our strategic plan, as is our commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion.
These two priorities are not mutually exclusive, and we are entirely comfortable with our strategic commitment to both.
We welcome the opportunity to respond to the AFFS claims you have cited, but if there are further claims or remarks about St Andrews which you intend to report, we would ask that we are given the opportunity to respond to/correct these as well.
We have no reason to expect that you will produce anything other than a fair and balanced report, but our previous experience with some media on freedom of speech/EDI reporting has regrettably been that they have been highly selective or censorious when reporting our responses, to present the false premise that freedom of speech is curtailed at St Andrews. It is not.
For this reason, we may publish this correspondence in full to allow stakeholders to have all the facts, and fully understand St Andrews’ position.
Please don’t hesitate to come back to me or my press office colleagues, copied, if you need anything else.
University of St Andrews
1) Why do you think the £235,000 a year is justified?
The EDI posts represent less than 0.2% of our total annual staffing costs. They are central to the effective discharge of our statutory duties and compliance with the law, including the Equality Act (2010), Public Sector Equality Duty (2011), and Scottish Specific Duties (2012), and, more recently, the Equality & Human Rights Commission and Scottish Funding Council National Equality Outcomes (2023).
The House of Commons Freedom of Speech in Universities paper from 2021 says ‘research has found that most UK students do not think that free speech nor academic freedom is under threat in their university. Official figures by the Office for Students show that only a tiny proportion of events or speakers on university campuses have been cancelled in recent years, and these incidents have occurred at only a very small number of HEPs’.
To note: St Andrews is not one of those HEPs.
Meanwhile, it is unequivocally the case that inequalities and disadvantages are experienced by minority groups – including those related to race and ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds, disability, gender and the experience of LGBTIQ+ people – both here in St Andrews and the rest of the UK. Our strategic plan in this area aims to close participation, attainment, and pay gaps, develop career pathways, and increase the diversity of our staff and students. Our EDI staff play a crucial part in delivering these strategic aims.
2) Why do you not have a freedom of speech officer or champion or code?
Our commitment to freedom of speech is unwavering, and is central to the University Strategy 2022-2027, which pledges ‘to promote and defend the principles and importance of academic freedom, and freedom of speech’. We signpost to the Freedom of Expression guidance for higher education providers and students on the Human Rights page of our website, and it is also referred to in our Terms and Conditions of Study, which every student must read and sign. We have never de-platformed speakers and believe that universities are places in which students, and staff, can be exposed to views and opinions which they may find challenging or offensive.
3) The information on EDI on your website states that gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, which is inaccurate. Do you have plans to correct it?
No, it’s not inaccurate. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. You can find out more about it on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s website here and here, and on the Government website.
4) What is the current status of the relationship with Stonewall? Can you confirm that you are no longer members of Diversity Champions and if not, why not? Did you leave to ensure institutional neutrality?
St Andrews isn’t currently a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme. We didn’t renew our membership because we weren’t convinced it offered value for money. That may change in future as we keep our memberships and subscriptions under constant review. In September 2022, we participated in the Workplace Equality Index at zero cost.
5) If you accept the principle of institutional neutrality, is this compatible with the appointment to the Court of senior figures from both Stonewall and Advance HE/Athena Swan?
Yes, it’s fully compatible with institutional neutrality, and with respect, the question is misleading. Iain Anderson is an alumnus and successful businessman who was appointed to Court as an alumni representative (General Council) two years before he became chair of Stonewall. We recruit to Court based on merit, experience, and skillset.
On Court, we also have the Director of the UK’s National Space Academy, the former Director of Innovation and Communication of Lloyd’s Bank, the former head of a leading US engineering and property company, the managing director of a Scottish construction firm, a Tory councillor, trade unionists, a former partner in KPMG, and a barrister and honorary King’s Counsel. They have very different backgrounds, perspectives, and experience, and it is this mix which is integral to healthy debate and good governance. The names and backgrounds of all Court members are on our website.
Posted by the University of St Andrews Communications Office, Sunday 23 April 2023.