Universities once barred women altogether. Now they strive to be emblems of enlightenment, temples to reason, equality, free speech and freedom of thought. But it's not easy to balance conflicting freedoms.Universities UK, their representative body, has just published 40 pages of guidelines on External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions, wriggling and writhing over competing freedoms for women versus not causing religious offence: it ends up with excruciating nonsense.
Some students may want a "no platform" policy for speakers they find obnoxious – the BNP or members of unsavoury governments. Demonstrating opposition is a freedom, but banning or yelling down free expression within the law is a denial of freedom. However, Universities UK's guidelines give the sexist eccentricities of some religions priority over women's rights, by allowing religious speakers the right to demand women and men are segregated in the lecture hall.