Thatcher's Oxford college makes students take 'unconscious bias' test

What would the Iron Lady say? Margaret Thatcher’s old Oxford college Somerville makes all students take an ‘unconscious bias’ test… until outcry over free speech forces it to U-turn

  • Somerville College, Oxford, told students to complete ‘unconscious bias’ course
  • Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, principal of the college, insisted students get 100%
  • In one section of the mandatory test, students are asked to concede that a black lecturer is more likely to be disliked by the students than her white colleagues
  • Free Speech Union warn orders could breach Human Rights Act and Equality Act
  • College since U-turned on instruction after outcry over outcry over free speech 

Every student at Margaret Thatcher’s old Oxford college was ordered to take a course in ‘unconscious bias’ to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, principal of Somerville College, instructed students to complete the online class by this Friday, and told them they must ‘achieve a mark of 100 per cent’ in a final test.

In her message the Labour peer, 65, who served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, also claimed there was ‘irrefutable evidence’ that injustices in society were being fanned by ‘individual unconscious biases that many or all of us have’.

Somerville College, Oxford, (pictured) told all students they must complete an ‘unconscious bias’ course to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’

Her claims were in conflict with the Government’s belief that trendy ‘unconscious bias’ training, which is aimed at rooting out unintentional discrimination, ‘does not achieve its intended aims’ and should be phased out of use in the public sector. Other research suggests it could even make such problems worse.

During the test used by Somerville College, seen by the Daily Mail, students must admit that they are ‘susceptible to bias’ and need to ‘accept responsibility for monitoring our own behaviours’.

They are also forced to admit to suffering from the bizarrely-named ‘mini-me syndrome’, because they ‘automatically favour’ people like themselves.

In one section, students must concede that a black lecturer would be more likely to be disliked by students than her white colleagues.

In another section, they are also told that thinking their tutor ‘doesn’t look smart’ and is ‘a bit unprofessional’ may not be appropriate.

Lady Royall’s letter and the accompanying test prompted the Free Speech Union (FSU) campaign group to warn that her orders could be a breach of both the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, principal of the college, initially insisted students get 100 per cent

‘Unconscious bias’ quiz tells you what to think

The Somerville College course presents a question about whether a black or white lecturer has the least satisfied class.

Students are told to use ‘what they know about unconscious bias’ to make a selection. The options are two white men, a white woman and a black woman.

After clicking on the image of the black woman, the course says this is the correct answer, citing research that ‘indicates students are less likely to rate courses positively if they are taught by black or ethnic minority academics’.

The accompanying quiz also tells students to confront ‘mini-me syndrome’ – an apparent tendency to prefer people similar to oneself.

The course asserts that ‘stereotyping is present in our unconscious and affects everyone at a university’.

It claims that ‘it can be difficult to override your unconscious biases when you are not aware of them’.

It suggests that all students ‘accept in general terms that we are all likely to be biased in some respects’.

FSU general secretary Toby Young said the organisation had been contacted by a student who was ‘understandably anxious that if they refuse to take this training course, or if they score less than 100 per cent in the assessment at the end of the course, they may face disciplinary action’.

He added that evidence suggests that such courses do not lead to ‘a reduction in real-world discriminatory behaviour and can lead to an increase in such behaviour’.

Last night friends of Lady Thatcher, who studied chemistry at the then women-only college in the 1940s, said the training flew in the face of her libertarian beliefs.

Sir Bernard Ingham, the former PM’s long-time press secretary, commented: ‘I think it is entirely in keeping with the university that refused her an honorary degree. The best way to deal with them is to laugh at them.

‘She would have thought the country had gone mad. She believed in freedom, these people don’t, they believe in dictatorship. To hell with them!’

Last night, Somerville College backed down in the face of the FSU challenge, with Lady Royall saying she should have ‘thought further’ about her order that all students must score 100 per cent.

She wrote in reply to the FSU: ‘On reflection, it has been agreed that completing the test with less than 100 per cent will be seen as the opportunity for a chat about the issues involved, nothing more.’

After initially telling students they were ‘required to complete this course’, Lady Royall also said she was ‘happy to confirm that there was never even the slightest question of disciplinary action following a student not completing the test or scoring less than 100 per cent’.

Friends of Margaret Thatcher (pictured), who studied chemistry at the then women-only college in the 1940s, said unconscious bias training flew in the face of her libertarian beliefs

Defending the ideology behind the course, she said it was ‘clearly incontestable that a plethora of systemic injustices exist in our society’. She emphasised the college’s commitment to free speech.

Responding to Somerville’s U-turn, Mr Young said: ‘I am pleased Baroness Royall has backed down on her insistence that students have to score 100 per cent on the test.

‘But she still says students who score less than 100 per cent will have to come in for a chat, which sounds ominous.’

The row comes as many universities and student unions are being accused of trying to enforce Left-wing ‘woke’ values across supposedly impartial institutions.

Today Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will unveil his plans for a ‘free speech champion’, who will work to fight censorship on campus and stick up for academics who find themselves vilified.

The tsar will work within universities regulator the Office for Students, now chaired by former Tory MP Lord Wharton of Yarm.

Recent examples of cancel culture include students at Clare College, Cambridge, trying to force a porter out of his job after he declined to support a pro-trans motion in his role as a city councillor.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was also ‘no-platformed’ by an Oxford University society last year. The society was later banned.

Academics like me live in fear of the woke hate mob

By Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent

The date everything changed is entrenched in my memory – June 23, 2016, the day Britain voted for Brexit.

Before that moment I was a professor of British politics who loved his job, enjoyed spending time with his colleagues and looked forward to life in Britain’s universities, which are among the best in the world.

But since then I have fallen out of love with my job, avoid my colleagues and look to the future with a sense of dread. So what happened?

Unlike the vast majority of people who teach and research in Britain’s universities, I made the mistake of saying publicly that we should respect the Brexit referendum result.

I was no Brexiteer but, in a world where just one in ten academics backed a Brexit decision that more than half of the country supported, merely accepting the result was more than enough to make me an outcast.

For the next four years, I faced a constant wave of criticism that at times bordered on harassment.

Politics professor Matthew Goodwin says he was subject to online abuse and professional backlash after expressing the opinion that  people should respect the Brexit referendum result

One professor told me to my face that I was disinvited from a workshop in my area of research because of my views on Brexit.

Others hurled insults on social media and still more concocted a plot to make it appear that I was a supporter of Donald Trump (I was not).

But it was nothing compared to what some of my colleagues have endured.

There is a long list of academics in Britain’s universities who have found themselves marginalised or intimidated by fellow academics, administrators or students.

They have been ‘no-platformed’, harassed or sacked because their views on issues like Brexit, gender or the legacy of Britain’s empire violate the woke orthodoxy.

Which is why, over the past year, a group of rebel academics began meeting to share ideas about how to push back against this illiberalism. I am proud to be a founding member of that secretive group.

Dr Kathleen Stock a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex (pictured), has been outspoken on gender identity issues and has been hounded over her views on the subject 

We worked to support freedom in our universities and ensure they remain places where students can be exposed to a full range of ideological views and where academics are not punished or mocked for holding different views.

And, thankfully, Boris Johnson’s Government is listening. In 2019, the Conservatives became one of the first parties in the world to include a commitment to defend academic freedom in its manifesto.

In a policy paper this week, the Government details plans to bring in legislation that will defend academics and universities from the illiberal liberalism that is taking hold, with a ‘free speech champion’ who will have powers to protect students and academics from the woke mob.

Ironically, the paper came as Mrs Thatcher’s old college, Somerville in Oxford, instructed all students to take what are widely regarded as flawed tests in ‘unconscious bias’ to expose their innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’.

Somerville College’s Principal, the Labour peer Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, initially told students they must ‘achieve a mark of 100 per cent’ in a final test – although she has since made clear ‘there was never even the slightest question of disciplinary action following a student not completing the test or scoring less than 100 per cent’.

Academic staff, however, have not escaped disciplinary action for expressing non-conformist views.

Take Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, hounded after challenging the narrow trans orthodoxy.

Or the Canadian Professor of Psychology and critic of political correctness, Jordan Peterson, who suddenly had his invitation for a fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded.

Critic of political correctness Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian Professor of Psychology and Clinical Psychologist had his invitation for a fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded

Other colleagues at Oxford, Birkbeck, Exeter and elsewhere have been hauled in front of disciplinary committees, faced student mobs or been disinvited from conferences because of their challenging views. Some have even been forced to have security at their lectures.

By my count, there have been at least two dozen cases where academics have spoken out publicly about being mistreated after merely challenging the established group-think.

Many more suffered abuse but dare not say so for fear this will damage their careers.

Critics will say that all of this is exaggerated. But a string of recent studies show just how lop-sided our universities have become.

Today only about one in ten academics are Conservatives while at recent elections an astonishing three-quarters voted for liberal-Left parties like Labour, the Greens or Lib Dems.

One study found that more than two-thirds of our universities have had a free speech controversy over the past four years and more than half experienced a ‘cancel culture’ event, whereby staff or students used open letters and petitions to try to shut down debate and visiting speakers.

This gulf between what is happening on university campuses and in wider British society is damaging higher education, making it harder to expose students to the diverse array of views that they will meet in the real world.

It also helps explain why so many academics, researchers and students now say they ‘self-censor’ in their lectures and seminars, hiding their real views because of fears over the response.

Research by the think-tank Policy Exchange found that a shocking 80 per cent of the (very few) academics who supported Brexit would not feel comfortable sharing their views with colleagues on campus.

Nor are they wrong to think this way. About half of academics say they would feel uncomfortable sitting next to a Brexiteer at lunch.

Too often, our universities have lost sight of why they are there.

They are not supposed to be putting the ‘emotional safety’ of their students ahead of free inquiry and the search for truth.

They are not supposed to be building ideological cocoons whereby academics close ranks against those who hold different views.

Only by encouraging every diverse idea to be presented and challenged can they possibly remain among the best in the world.

Matthew Goodwin is Professor of Politics at the University of Kent

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