Former British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has criticized “rude” students for canceling her speech at the University of Oxford shortly before it was due to take place, sparking another round of debate over no-platforming on college campuses.
The politician was set to make remarks on Thursday encouraging women to get involved in politics – arranged to mark International Women’s Day – but her appearance was scrapped around an hour beforehand after students complained about Rudd’s role in the Windrush scandal.
“Following a majority vote in committee, tonight’s event with speaker Amber Rudd has been cancelled. We are deeply sorry for all and any hurt caused to our members and other wom*n and non binary people in Oxford over this event,” the UNWomen Oxford society wrote on Facebook, after sending out a form to gather feedback from members over the event.
But the former Conservative MP, who stood down from Parliament after quitting Boris Johnson’s government last year, hit back on Twitter.
“Badly judged & rude of some students last night at Oxford to decide to ‘no platform’ me 30 mins before an event I had been invited to for #IWD2020 to encourage young women into politics,” she wrote. “They should stop hiding and start engaging.”
Rudd was forced to resign as Home Secretary during the Windrush affair, during which she claimed she had “inadvertently misled” government over targets for the deportation of illegal immigrants.
She subsequently returned to government and remained a prominent figure in British politics until December’s snap general election, which she did not contest.
A number of MPs have leapt to Rudd’s defense after her talk was scrapped – including former Labour deputy leader and political adversary Tom Watson, who wrote: “If you’re trying to silence Amber Rudd you really are being anti-democratic.”
Some students also criticized the decision on Facebook, and the university said in a statement on Friday that it “strongly disapproves” of the decision.
In an earlier post on Monday, the society acknowledged the criticism it had received for scheduling the event. “The concerns we see happening now around this event are absolutely ones which we as a committee feel ourselves,” it said.
“We invited Ms Rudd on the understanding that this would be an honest and frank conversation about how her policies have impacted wom*n of all races, religions, classes et cetera,” it added.
“We acknowledge that our perspective is biased by a certain amount of privilege and we want to hear concerns from more marginalised groups of women who feel under-represented.”
CNN has contacted the UNWomen Oxford society for comment.
Controversies over freedom of speech on university campuses are well-documented in the United States and have increasingly become routine in Europe.
Earlier this week, Oxford’s Exeter College launched a review after historian Selina Todd was no-platformed.
And last year the UK government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission issued new guidance discouraging universities from no-platforming guests.
“Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice,” the then Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said at the time.
“Freedom of speech in higher education should be upheld at every opportunity and should only be limited where there are genuine safety concerns or it constitutes unlawful behaviour,” the commission’s chair, David Isaac, added.