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Lost Legacies And Furious Resignations – UCL’s ‘Mistreatment’ of Sir Tim Hunt Backfires

Pressure on University College London (UCL) is building to reinstate Sir Tim Hunt as an honorary professor as 20 fellows of the institution criticise the treatment of the Nobel Laureate.

The fellows, including businessman Lord Jones of Birmingham, said the university’s actions had been hasty, excessive, and the esteemed scientist was badly mistreated. Their criticism follows Tuesday’s resignation of the broadcaster and writer Jonathan Dimbleby from his honorary fellowship when he called UCL’s actions “disgraceful.”

Another fellow, Professor Martin Vessey of Oxford, said: “I am not planning to resign my fellowship but I have deleted UCL from the short list of organisations to which I may leave money.”

All the fellows were approached by The Times – 21 of those who responded were critical of the university, four remained neutral, and only one backed the institution.

The former director-general of the CBI, Lord Jones, said that the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, (one of the fathers of modern liberalism) whose body is preserved at UCL, would be “turning in his grave.”

He said: “Fairness and tolerance… are at the very core of the place. Where is the fairness in what happened? At the very least there should have been a properly convened hearing with all sides of the argument considered in the cold light of day.”

On the 24th of June a new account of Sir Tim’s comments made in Korea emerged, which appeared to challenge the explosive initial Twitter reporting by three feminist social justice warriors, which sparked the episode. They had claimed Sir Tim was “in favour of” and “made the case for” single-sex labs. However, according to minutes taken by a European Commission official also present, their account was selective and misleading. The new account made clear Sir Tim was joking, and revealed he also went on to make several pro-gender-equality remarks immediately after.

UCL has chosen to ignore the arguably more reliable and impartial evidence; “I don’t intend to repeat or re-analyse who said what, where or when…” wrote Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost, in a statement after the new evidence surfaced.

The statement continued: “We, like many other universities, have failed to achieve the level of equality and diversity that we aspire to. We have… to do better…  Every faculty and professional service has an equality action plan that is being implemented and all members of the Senior Management Team have personal objectives with respect to equality and diversity.”

Concluding, he wrote: “Our view is that reversing that decision would send entirely the wrong signal and I have reason to believe that Sir Tim would also not want that to happen.”

Dimbleby’s resignation comments dissent from that view:

“The college has a long and honourable tradition of defending free speech, however objectionable it may be. Sir Tim made a very poor joke and it quite rightly backfired. He then apologised for that. This is not an offence that should be enough to ensure that a distinguished scientist should be told to resign his position…

“…It seems to me the reaction of UCL was totally inappropriate. It was a rush to judgment led by a vociferous social media campaign and I think it is disgraceful.

“The idea that serious grown-up women thinking of pursuing a science career, and thinking of going to UCL to do so, would be put off by an elderly professor saying something silly then apologising for it seems bizarre.”

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