304 scholars have signed the open letter, with 69 others adding their support on Change.orgChange.org

Over 300 academics have signed an open letter addressed to The Times’ editorial team responding to an article in the newspaper that claimed academics will be happy to see the Vice-Chancellor leave the helm of Cambridge University. The letter was published this morning (05/10). 

The article, published on 24th September, cited criticism of Toope’s tenure from Sir Partha Dasgupta, a professor and fellow at St John’s, Arif Ahmed, a reader at Gonville and Caius, and John Marenbon, a Trinity research fellow. The article also quotes two unnamed sources.

The article claims that the Vice-Chancellor is experiencing “the hardest time of his career,” referencing controversies around micro-aggression reporting and free speech.

The letter begins “Stephen Toope is a popular and respected VC at Cambridge and one of the most highly regarded figures in UK Higher Education. We are lucky to have him and his service has been exemplary.” Organisers also published the letter in the form of a petition on Change.org this morning, where it has accrued 70 signatures to add to the 304 on the original letter.

The letter states that students are more engaged with social justice issues than previously, wanting to know more about “British imperial history, legacies of slavery, and trans rights,” and that Professor Toope has been sensitive to this. Organisers write that he is trying to change the “cultural mechanisms” responsible for “overwhelmingly white and male” Cambridge Professoriate.

In The Times article, an unnamed source called Toope “thin-skinned”, claiming that “one could scarcely imagine a worse vice-chancellor.” They continued: “The opposition has been to a variety of politically correct moves” citing the Vice-Chancellor’s short-lived ‘Report+Support’ system, which was removed just one week after its controversial implementation in May. 

Trinity Senior Research Fellow John Marenbon commented that he “hopes a new vice-chancellor will have more respect for the freedom of academics in how they go about their work than Toope, and be less sympathetic to fashionable causes such as ‘decolonising the curriculum’.”

There was also criticism of Toope from Arif Ahmed, a reader in philosophy at Gonville and Caius College, who said that despite wishing the Vice-Chancellor “every success,” he hopes that his successor “appreciates the need to prioritise free speech.”

Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economics of poverty and nutrition professor, states that he doesn’t believe “university authorities ever faced a challenge, nor do they do so now.” Dasgupta also draws parallels between a diversity scheme run by the charity Stonewall and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the 1970s.


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Signatories of the letter dispute these claims, arguing that Toope has been dealt a rough hand during his time at Cambridge, dealing with challenges posed by Brexit, Covid and “the dismal financial outlook shared by all the UK’s leading research universities.” They say the article is “only the latest in an ill-judged campaign against academic excellence.”

Referencing the January riots at the US capitol, the letter also addresses the Vice-Chancellor’s engagement with social justice: “It is entirely wrong he should be pilloried by the anti-woke brigade, who are being goaded, as on Capitol Hill, by divisive and inflammatory sloganeering about a so-called ‘culture war’.” 

The letter concludes by telling the paper’s editorial team that they “can and should do better in [their] account of the real challenges faced by universities today.”

Varsity has contacted the University of Cambridge and The Times’ editorial team for comment.