Summary of what’s going on. “On 22 November 2011, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, was scheduled to speak at the University of Cambridge [...]“
Report of a discussion in the Senate House in April. James of Jesus: “It is not, I think, to establish a rule whereby any person can say whatever they like on any occasion without fear of interruption or rudeness in response: what is important is that no persons are punished for the content of their expressed views, not that every person is able to say whatever they like on a given occasion. (To give an example, I have no ‘free speech’ right to deliver a speech in Westminster Abbey during a state occasion, and to prevent me from doing so is not to impede my freedom of speech.) In this perspective, the notion that a serving government minister is in particular need to have his freedom of speech protected from interruption by a single graduate student seems to me misconceived: it is hardly plausible to claim that Mr Willetts was rendered, as a result of the prosecuted student’s actions, unable freely to express his views on universities. In any important sense, this is not a free speech issue.”
[...] Reasonable arguments cannot succeed here. Willetts is not interested in winning an argument of that kind; indeed he is not interested in argument in the way that you are interested in it at all: he simply does not esteem argument as you esteem it. He is interested in only one thing — in managing his policy through Whitehall. You can’t talk him out of it. Politicians are immune to having “flaws” in argument exposed: that just isn’t how argument appears to them to work, isn’t what they believe argument is for. They do not behave like academics in debate; they do not behave reasonably, and cannot be reasoned with. Willetts’ views, right down to his responses to sharp questions on policy, are well-known. The man hardly lacks a platform. Only the most cloth-eared participant in our higher-education culture could be unaware of Willetts’ arguments, and only the most staringly loyal tory squire would be unable to mount his own description of its egregious opportunism, myopia, and chauvinism. His policy will not change: it’s not like a research paper which we can subject to an especially swingeing peer-review. There is no super-sophisticated, high-level, “interdisciplinary” argument which we can deploy to change his heart. To entertain such fantasies is vain and self-deceiving [...] I can only suppose that such fantasies vibrated in the minds of those behind the invitation which CRASSH extended to this person.