A group of academics at Oxford University has asked the university to revise its social media harassment guidelines as they violate free speech. They noted that the policies ban lawful speech and therefore are in violation of the university’s commitment to respect the freedom of expression.
“These policies frustrate academic freedom – the lifeblood of this university – and harm academic careers,” the academics said.
Oxford’s academic Dr. Abhijit Sarkar was recently the subject of murder and rape threats over accusations of “Hinduphobia” for criticizing the first female Indian leader of the Oxford University Student’s Union, Rashmi Samant. Sarkar connected Samant and her family to far-right Hindu nationalism on social media.
Sarkar was accused of harassing Samant, who resigned shortly after the allegations. Oxford upheld the harassment complaint against Sarkar.
The academics maintained that the social media policies, which allowed a complaint to be made against Sarkar, are unlawful and against the university’s commitment to upholding academic freedom.
The guidelines state that staff are required to treat each other with “courtesy” and “professionalism.” The academics said the requirement is “reasonable but legally baseless – speech that lacks respect, professionalism, etc, is still free speech within the law.”
They continued to say that “as a matter of principle, the social media policy of the university – as an institution founded on tolerance, free thought, and free expression – should in all circumstances be more liberal and open-minded than the policy of social media platforms.”
The academics concluded that the university not protecting academic freedom “poses a grave risk to the university’s reputation.”