Staff news

Statement from the Principal

A statement from the Principal about the Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) event.

I would like to express my extreme disappointment that last night, for the second time in six months, we were left with no alternative but to stop the screening of 'Adult Human Female' because of safety concerns for attendees. 

I want to reassure the University community that we will take all steps available to us to fully investigate those who were responsible for the disturbances and to explore routes of action that can be taken to ensure we are not in this situation again in the future. We condemn the actions which prevented freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on our campus.

Upholding freedom of expression and academic freedom, and facilitating an environment where students and staff can discuss and debate challenging topics is at the heart of our purpose as a university. We remain steadfast in our determination to continue to foster this type of discussion, both within our community and with interested parties in the Edinburgh community and beyond.

In doing so, we will explore different ways of staging events which represent differing views held by sections of our community. We refuse to be intimidated by the unreasonable behaviour of those who sought to prevent lawful discussion of challenging topics on our campus yesterday. 

We have already stated publicly that ensuring respectful dialogue about controversial topics is critical to our raison d’etre as a University.  We have consistently demonstrated our commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom. We have recently established a cross-University group, chaired by the Provost, to consider aspects of academic freedom and freedom of expression.  We are committed to identifying how we can support these fundamental rights in our community, and what actions we need to take to promote them. 

It is unfortunate and disappointing that last night attendees were again prevented from being able to gather and discuss these issues on our campus. We worked with organisers of the event and leads of organisations representing those who wished to participate in peaceful protest at the screening of the film, putting increased measures and extra security in place to mitigate risks, whilst ensuring that all were in a position to express their views, including respecting others with differing perspectives.

Despite these significant additional measures, a small handful of disruptive protesters restricted access to the venue preventing the organisers from holding the event, and leading to increased tensions and safety concerns.

We appreciate the strong, and differing, feelings across our community with regard to the screening of this documentary. However, it is important that views can be heard, that individuals are not prevented from exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly by others in our community, and that all members of our University are treated with dignity and respect, including by those who disagree with them.

It is my sincere hope that we can put behind us the display of intolerance we witnessed this week, and that we can move towards building a more mature, listening community that is true to our values and our purpose.


Professor Peter Mathieson

Principal and Vice-Chancellor, The University of Edinburgh