A row over the flying of pride flags engulfed the College last yearVarsity

Fellows at Gonville & Caius College are deeply divided over recent culture war rows at the College, according to a source familiar with the atmosphere among the fellowship who told Varsity: “there is real momentum to get rid of the master and senior tutor”.

In a leaked email revealed by Varsity this week, Arif Ahmed, the Caius fellow who invited Helen Joyce to speak at the College earlier this term, quoted the College’s master and senior tutor referring to “heightened tensions” in the College.

That view was shared by the source close to the fellows, who described how the group of progressive fellows are “like a faction”, wherein they “only sit with themselves” and “can’t even look” at their ideological opponents.

Even Ahmed, a mild-mannered man who chooses his words carefully, seemed to tacitly criticise the College’s leadership when he spoke to Varsity this week.

The philosophy professor never mentioned the master and senior tutor by name, and was scrupulous about avoiding saying anything inappropriate. He did tell us, however, “If senior people are cavalier about calling a view ‘hateful’ when it isn’t, that can have a seriously chilling effect.”

Progressive fellows are ‘like a faction’

After the master and senior tutor called Helen Joyce’s views “hateful” last week, given how carefully Ahmed chooses his words, that didn’t sound like a coincidence.

Despite his caution, however, Ahmed is clearly not happy with the state of free speech at Cambridge. He described “an atmosphere of fear at Cambridge”, and added: “I do believe there is a place for a bit of backbone to be shown at British universities”. That is why he has been running widely publicised free speech classes at Caius recently, aiming to teach students how to respond to views they find “controversial, shocking, [and] offensive”.

Going forward, however, students aren’t Ahmed’s main targets. “I don’t myself see the students as the problem as much as the academics”, he said.

Pippa Rogerson and Andrew Spencer, the College’s master and senior tutor, might well agree.

It is more than just fellows who are angry, however. The opprobrium extends to alumni and donors, many of whom are unhappy with the master and senior tutor’s handling of the Joyce talk.

Pippa Rogerson boycotted the Helen Joyce eventOEAC UC NEWS

After Rogerson and Spencer wrote to students heavily criticising Joyce’s views, and saying that they would not be attending the event, a backlash ensued in the right-wing press.

Allison Pearson slammed the College in a column for The Daily Telegraph. More worryingly for the College, that newspaper also reported that donors had told them that they were “embarrassed, appalled and absolutely disgusted” by the intervention.

Rogerson has tried to appease alumni in a message which spins the College’s response from a more pro-free speech perspective. The master said that she and the senior tutor had “expressed our personal opinions – as is our right.”

In a comment likely to anger the many students who protested the event, Rogerson added: “We did not consider a cancellation. Free speech is fundamental and disagreeing is part of academia. Students are encouraged to engage in challenging discussions about difficult topics at university and at Caius.

Comment Us Caians don't care about the culture wars

The prevailing view among Caius students lies between uninterest and placation (Max Swillingham writes). Many were nonplussed by the Joyce event and gave it only a brief moment of thought – a friend said: “Caius are at it again”, half concerned, half tongue in cheek.

And then the work continued. Perhaps it made for good conversation over dinner on the nature and limits of freedom of speech. Beyond this, however, the reaction was quite anti-climactic considering the coverage the event received. Weighing far heavier on the minds of most undergraduates was the burden of work that had accumulated by the middle of term. The Joyce controversy provided some disruptive background noise, but no more than that.

While the Joyce event is weighing like a nightmare on the fellowship, it at once does and doesn’t for undergraduates. On the one hand, there are some who are very hurt by what Helen Joyce stands for. On the other, there are a great many who are relatively unburdened. They are more concerned with combating those intangible ‘week five blues’.

Indeed, the irony is that although Caius is the centre of political controversy, most of its students are relatively apolitical. This was laid bare in the vote on which flags the College should fly. There were five nominations for flag days, and to have any flag flown required 307 votes out of the 919 eligible voters (one-third). No flag was voted in: an average of 260 people voted for the flying of the flags. But this was not due to strong opposition — the average ‘no’ vote was 30.

In short, Caius’ political controversies matter less to students than one might think. At the end of the day, Cambridge students too busy to go to talks and protests aren't likely to care about them.

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“The event took place on Tuesday 25 October with practical assistance from the College to ensure everyone’s security.”

The claim that the College had offered practical assistance to the talk conflicts with the claim that the event was not hosted by Caius, which the College’s communications office has been keen to make clear.

The claim that the College did not consider cancelling the talk also implies that they could have done so. Students who regard the platforming of Joyce as a serious moral failure may well be critical of Caius for not acting on that ability.


Mountain View

Caius master blocked promotion of Joyce event, leaked email suggests

This is the impossible dilemma for the master and senior tutor. They are caught between the anger of student activists and sympathetic, progressive academics, and the wrath of more conservative fellows — especially older ones with life tenure — and alumni with their indispensable donations.

Especially problematically for the College, despite the olive-branch message to alumni, and the associated risk of incurring student ire, today’s revelations in this newspaper about Rogerson and Spenser are likely to prompt a further round of alumni anger.

Today Varsity revealed that Rogerson and Spencer told Ahmed that they did not support the Joyce talk long before it went ahead. They also blocked him from advertising it on the College intranet, despite using a College mailing list to publicise their “personal opinions” on the matter themselves.

The leaked email also hinted at tensions between Ahmed and the master and senior tutor, with the former informing colleagues that, despite the latter’s objections, “[the talk] will go ahead anyway”.

How alumni will react, and how secure the master and senior tutor’s positions are is unclear. What is clear is that, as a source close to the fellowship told Varsity, the Caius culture wars are not going anywhere any time soon.