Academic “silenced” by University over sexual violence

An Oxford academic who refused to hold an event at the Oxford Union accused the University this week of “silencing” her attempts to speak about gender issues and accuses the institution of mishandling sexual harassment investigations.

In an article published on her blog, The Double Economy, Professor Linda Scott argued that Oxford has “no procedure or program to deal with issues of sexual harassment and violence”. She further claimed that on several occasions she had been asked “to keep silent about gender issues”.

The University, however, claimed in response that there is “certainly no culture of secrecy at Oxford” and pointed out that there are almost 300 trained harassment advisors within the institution.

Scott – a professor at the Saïd Business School – is the leader of the Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy. The Union was due to host an event on a gender equality topic as part of the forum this term. However, Scott moved the debate from the Union citing fears that “there was a conflict between our (the forum’s) mission – as well as the sympathies of our audience – and the situation at the Union”.

Her comments come in the wake of a larger campaign to boycott the Union, following its handling of rape allegations made against president Ben Sullivan.

Professor Scott claims that, following her decision to move the debate, “there was an immediate pushback from the University’s administration”. In the post she also claimed that the University would not allow her to deliver a speech to event participants explaining why the event location had been moved.  Instead, the University asked her to say that the debate was moved for “operational reasons”.

Scott sees this incident as symptomatic of a culture of silence surrounding gender issues at Oxford.  “There have been several occasions in my career at Oxford in which I have been asked to keep silent about a gender issue. Three times the topic was sexual aggression, twice it was the situation for women in business schools, once it was for fair hiring practice, and once it was for equal pay.

“Each time, I have replied with something pointed like, “Please stop trying to censor my speech.” But it doesn’t stop the attempts to keep me quiet”.

Scott describes the current system for dealing with assault cases as “Byzantine…nobody on the front line (least of all the students) knows what to do: its a maze made of mush”.

A spokesman for the University commented: “The Saïd Business School decided to move the Forum debate for operational reasons. It was agreed by all those involved in the event’s organisation that a short statement would be made to guests explaining this.”

He added: “We provide strong support for victims, including guidance and advice on how complaints should be made. There is certainly no culture of secrecy at Oxford, and we would always encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual harassment or violence to come forward.

“Oxford has more than 270 trained harassment advisors across the central University and the colleges, immediately available to support students involved in any such case”.

Speaking about A.C Grayling’s opposition to the boycott of the Union – printed in an article for theTelegraph earlier this term – Scott said: “I was dismayed that Grayling’s invocation of an important principle, “innocent until proven guilty,” was used to reinforce a tacit assumption of cultures that tolerate gender violence: the victim is ‘lying until proven truthful’”.

“But I am most disturbed that, by talking this stance (one that seems to many above reproach, but to me appears smug and insensitive), Professor Grayling became the only voice from the Oxford faculty speaking out on this matter.  So, I have chosen to speak because, to borrow a phrase, “I,too, am Oxford”.