Universities should introduce “brave spaces” to allow students to air offensive or controversial views, a leading academic has said.
John Palfrey, a former professor and vice dean at Harvard Law School, is championing brave spaces, where nothing is off limits.
The areas would be an extension of safe spaces, which are designed to protect students’ feelings when it comes to offensive topics of discussion.
Palfrey told The Times: “People sit in one or other camp but it’s unproductive for our children and for democracy. Both diversity and freedom of speech are important.”
He said that brave spaces could be used to allow people to try out ideas that might be unpopular.
Palfrey has written a book Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces, which looks at how free speech and diversity should coexist on campuses.
Palfrey argues that the search for knowledge at academic institutions is paramount, even if some discussions may make some students uncomfortable.
He added: “Diversity and free expression ought to co-exist. And yet, in recent years, a false choice has been served up: you are either for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities or you are for free expression.”
Palfrey said that most of academic life should take place in brave spaces, such as in classrooms, lecture halls and public forums.
He said that, although some of the discussions will be uncomfortable for some students, time spent in the spaces would make up a large proportion of their time during their education.
Universities have come under fire in recent months for struggling to balance freedom of speech with protecting students from distasteful topics.
Universities minister Jo Johnson has suggested that so-called “no-platforming” and “safe spaces” are an affront to free speech as he unveiled new regulations earlier this month.
Highlighting the example of feminist author Germaine Greer, who was the focus of a campaign against her appearance at Cardiff University two years ago, Johnson said: “She has every right, if invited, to give views on difficult and awkward subjects.
Johnson added: “No-platforming and safe spaces shouldn’t be used to shut down legitimate free speech.”