Chris Lorde for Varsity

Pro-vice-chancellor for education Professor Bhaskar Vira has said “there have been failures” in the process of appointing “race-realist” fellow Nathan Cofnas as a supervisor and examiner.

Cofnas was appointed to examine the Philosophy part 1A paper sat by freshers this year, even after students raised concerns about his controversial views about race.

In 2022, students circulated a petition calling for the termination of Cofnas’ employment and the Philosophy faculty organised one to one meetings with students to hear their concerns.

Following a protest on Sidgwick site yesterday, a Black student who went to the student services building to complain was asked whether he was a “current student at Cambridge” and told “I’m asking because ARU has a different complaints system.”

After facing mounting backlash, Cofnas has voluntarily resigned from his teaching and examining responsibilities, Varsity can reveal.

In controversial blog posts, Cofnas argued in favour of the “preservation of racial distinctions” and said the number of black professors at Harvard would “approach zero” in a meritocracy.

Renewed pressure is mounting against the University to sack Cofnas after the protest on Sidgwick site yesterday.

Students chanted “fire Nathan Cofnas” and accused the University of insincerity in their response to Cofnas’ blog posts.

One student said they were “just given excuses” at a meeting, which was held by Philosophy faculty chair Angela Brietenbach, and attended by Professor Vira, to hear student opinion.

Another student said that in the context of rising racial hatred, “there is not a clear line between speech is just speech and action is just action”.

“Speech causes violence and there is blood on the hands of Nathan Cofnas and there is blood on the hands of the Cambridge University philosophy faculty,” he alleged.

A town hall on Cofnas’ employment was held on Wednesday evening at Emmanuel College, where Cofnas is a research affiliate, hosted by Emma Master Doug Chalmers and Homerton Principal Lord Simon Woolley.

Lord Woolley told the town hall: “I see it for what it is. Abhorrent racism, masquerading as pseudo-intellect.”

“There is no place for bigots in institutions like this,” he said.

According to Woolley, the first black man to head a Cambridge College, “We should protect free speech but not at the expense of abhorrent racism.”

Wollely suggested that the University should sack Cofnas, telling the room: “If this is not gross misconduct […] I don’t know what is.”

A petition calling for the termination of Cofnas’ employment has amassed over 800 signatures.

At the Philosophy faculty meeting, Brietenbach said the faculty has tightened its hiring procedures following the backlash.

Vira said at the meeting he believes Cofnas has “crossed a line” when it comes to concerns for freedom of speech and the University is seeking legal advice on freedom of speech law.

Alice Hickson, a philosophy undergraduate who attended the meeting, told Varsity: “The dynamic of the meeting quite quickly established itself as a few black students having to provide quite intense, emotive and personal testimony to convince the faculty staff that the situation was as bad as it clearly is.”

“I think we were made to feel like we should be grateful for having the bare minimum in terms of transparent communication with the faculty, which, as Philosophy students, is exactly what we are owed,” she said.


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Cambridge UCU have released a statement, saying they are “particularly dismayed” at how Cofnas “promotes a discredited, ‘scientific’, ‘biological’ understanding of ‘race’ and associated abhorrent ideas regarding the assessments of groups and their social positions.”

“This is not only a form of race pseudo-science, but also of eugenics, which have both caused unspeakable harm in the world and should be actively fought under any circumstances,” they said.

The Philosophy faculty has published a statement, saying “The Faculty recognises the importance of upholding academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, but remains resolutely committed to eliminating racism and unlawful discrimination of all kinds.”

The University has declined to clarify whether Cofnas’ comments breached its freedom of speech policy.