Essex is a University that values academic freedom, freedom of expression and inclusion. We made serious mistakes in December 2019 and January 2020 and have worked hard to ensure they are not repeated. Universities have a responsibility to protect freedom of speech within the law, and to ensure that a diversity of voices and views can be heard safely on our campuses. We issued an open apology to Professor Phoenix and Professor Freedman. We recognise that we did not uphold our own high standards.
We commissioned the Reindorf Review to ensure that lessons were learnt, and we have taken action in all the areas it identified. We are recommending to the Privy Council an amendment to our Royal Charter and have updated policies including: our Speaker Code of Practice, our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy, our approach to Supporting Trans, Non-Binary and Gender Non-Conforming Staff, and our Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance Approach statement. These manifest our commitment to academic freedom, freedom of expression and inclusion.
Academic freedom is a fundamental commitment at the heart of our mission at the University of Essex. Freedom of speech within the law is an essential part of academic and University life and flourishes where there is tolerance of, and respect for, a wide range of views and beliefs. We also strive to be an inclusive community for all members, regardless of background or characteristics.
We have around 1,500 external speaker events each year. In December 2019 an event was cancelled and subsequently a decision taken not to re-invite the speaker who was due to speak at the cancelled seminar. For this to have occurred was a matter of serious concern for the University. The Vice-Chancellor commissioned an independent review (the Review) into the circumstances surrounding this event. In early 2020 a decision was taken to withdraw an invitation to a speaker to a separate event, although this decision was subsequently reversed. This incident was added to the scope of the Review. The remit was approved by the University’s Senate and Council and a barrister who specialises in discrimination law was appointed to undertake the Review. The Review has now been received and considered by Senate and Council.
The University accepts the need to take actions that have been developed in response to each of the recommendations made in the Review. In both cases, the University of Essex fell short in living up to our commitments to staff, students and external speakers, to uphold academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. We are sorry and want to ensure this does not happen again.
On behalf of the University, the Vice-Chancellor has issued an open apology to each of Professor Phoenix and Professor Freedman. In addition, changes will be made to University policies and procedures, notably the External Speaker Code of Practice, the University’s procedures and guidance on Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff, and on Zero Tolerance of Harassment and Bullying.
The University will also reiterate to staff and students its commitment: to providing a supportive and inclusive environment within which people can expect to learn, grow and develop through challenge; that this means that they may encounter ideas or arguments which may be experienced as objectionable or offensive, but that a line will be drawn at conduct which is unlawful or contrary to the University’s policies.
On behalf of the University, the Vice-Chancellor is offering an open apology to staff and students regarding the procedural and other failings that have occurred in relation to the two events covered in the Reindorf Report, and for any distress caused. We are also committed to taking a range of actions to address the impact of these events on members of our community. This will include consulting with our community to devise and ensure implementation of a strategy for repairing relationships amongst University members. The Vice-Chancellor apologises to members of our community for any distress that has resulted from these failings by the University.
You can read the Vice-Chancellor’s blog which considers some of the difficult issues raised by the review.
The Report has been redacted using specialist legal expertise from the University’s legal advisors, working closely with the University, to protect the personal data of individuals who contributed to the Review, and in line with the University’s obligations under the applicable data protection laws. As the Facts and Evidence section covers, in detail, contributions made by named or otherwise identifiable witnesses, this part of the Report has been redacted in full. The remaining sections’ content has been redacted where appropriate. Personal data appearing in these sections that is already in the public domain was not redacted as it is deemed disclosed to the world at large. The specialist legal advisors have not altered the structure or content of the Report.
The Review covers two events, one from 5 December 2019 and the second from January 2020. The Review was commissioned on 9 December 2019, in response to the circumstances surrounding the Centre for Criminology seminar. Its remit was extended on 27 January 2020 to include the circumstances relating to the Holocaust Memorial Week event. The review process was undertaken in exact accordance with the Terms of Reference, which were endorsed by the University’s Senate and approved by its Council in February 2020.
The search for a reviewer began in February 2020. Due to the nature of the review, it took more time than had been expected to find and appoint both a suitable reviewer and the External Expert Panel. The COVID-19 pandemic also created unforeseen challenges. The Terms of Reference were updated in June 2020 to revise the timeline because of this. No other changes were made. A robust recruitment process was followed for appointment to all roles, requiring approval from a panel of representatives from the University. The review author was appointed in August 2020 and the External Expert Panel was confirmed in March 2021. Following comments from the External Expert Reference Group, received in April 2021, and production of the final draft report, a detailed redaction process was undertaken using specialist, legal expertise, to protect the personal data not already in the public domain of those named or otherwise identifiable. The Report was shared with the University’s Senate and Council on 17 May 2021. It was published on 18 May 2021, within 24 hours of consideration by the committees.
We have responded to an open letter to re-iterate points about the process of the review, reasons for redaction and our next steps. See our response.
The Review noted that that a flyer had been circulating on campus on December 5 2019 and that the flyer bore violent and profane imagery and the words “SHUT THE **** UP, ****”.
The University is clear that the circulation of such materials is entirely inappropriate in any circumstances, and we condemn the use of this flyer. Should any similar materials be reported on campus in future, they will be subject to formal investigation that may be dealt with by way of disciplinary action.
All new staff and students are introduced to our culture and values, and to the standards of behaviour and respect we expect from all of our community. Our regular staff and student communications will continue to be used to reinforce these values.
Published on: 18 May 2021
Next review due: 18 May 2022
Sources of support, particularly for staff who have been personally affected by the issues raised by the Reindorf Review, our trans and non-binary community and their allies.
If you have been affected by these events, there are a range of ways that we can support you. Our Student Services Hub team can work with you to access any help you need including referrals to other support services. In addition to all of our usual sources of support, any staff member affected by these events can arrange for a confidential referral for structured counselling through Validium or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through ASC Wellbeing Clinic.
You can arrange up to six sessions of Solution Focused Brief Therapy via Validium. Simply call the Employee Assistance Programme helpline on 0800 358 48 58 and speak to one of their telephone counsellors. This is a fully confidential service and personal details will not be shared with the University.
You can also ask for a counsellor by identity, for example LGBTQ+. Find out more
ASC Wellbeing Clinic is a service offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy support with therapists experienced in supporting people from the transgender community. Staff affected by the Reindorf Review will be able to access up to six sessions with them. You can contact them on 01702 523428 or 07584 022669 to arrange this.
This additional service will be available until 30 June 2021.
Support is also available through our partners:
The Department of Sociology would like to outline the steps we have taken to acknowledge errors of judgement made in connection with the cancellation in December 2019 of a seminar to be presented by Professor Jo Phoenix, and to move forward to strengthen our inclusive learning and research culture.
Since May 2021, we have:
a. Contributed to university-level groups established to implement actions arising from the Reindorf Report into the cancellation of the seminar, a decision not to re-invite the external speaker who was due to speak at the cancelled seminar, and the failure to invite a chosen external speaker to another event, although this decision was subsequently reversed;
b. Participated in university-level consultations on revisions to the External Speaker Code of Practice;
c. Invited Professor Phoenix to present a seminar;
d. Organised events for Transgender Awareness Week in November 2021.
In addition, the Department would like to make mention of our earlier efforts to address errors made prior to the publication of the Reindorf report.
In December 2019, in response to concerns expressed by members of the university’s Trans community about the seminar, the then Head of Department (HoD) invited a student member of that community to attend and address our departmental meeting of 11 December 2019. At that meeting the Centre for Criminology expressed its ‘sincere apologies for the hurt caused to the Trans Community members on Campus’. This apology was included in the minutes of the meeting.
On 17 May 2020, Senate met to consider the recommended actions arising from the Reindorf Report. At that meeting, the current HoD acknowledged that the Department had made errors of judgement in relation to the matters investigated in the Report, apologised for these and committed to taking clear actions to redress these on behalf of our students and our staff. The HoD also expressed full support for the open apology to be issued by the university to Professor Phoenix, and confirmed the Department’s commitment to upholding free speech, providing a supportive and inclusive environment in which people can expect to learn and develop through engaging with challenging ideas and arguments, and safeguarding our community against conduct which is either unlawful or contrary to the university’s policies.
The day after the Senate meeting, the HoD sent an email to all students in the Department with a further apology: “I would like to add my own personal follow-up to the message that you will have received from the Vice-Chancellor this morning regarding the Reindorf Review. I would also like to apologise, on behalf of the Department, for our own procedural and other failings in this matter, and to draw your attention to the sources of support outlined below. If you would like to contact me personally, please do so via [personal email address]."
As part of the Department’s ongoing commitment to strengthen our inclusive learning and research culture, we stand ready to promote and participate in further events arising from the series of ‘listening events’ facilitated this summer by the university’s Events Review Implementation Steering Group.
14 September 2021