The Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews has issued a statement deploring criticism by the elected Rector, Stella Maris, of Israel’s devastation of the Gaza strip, where deaths are now approaching 15,000. The VC’s concern – that the Rector, elected by the students only a few weeks ago, had “put her right to freedom of expression ahead of her duty to represent all students”.

What had she done? On November 21st she sent an email to students describing Israel’s attacks as “genocidal”. It was, she wrote, necessary to “recognise and condemn acts that are internationally regarded as humanitarian and war crimes”, and specified apartheid, siege, illegal occupation and collective punishment, all of which had been visited by Israel on Palestinians.

Once the Daily Mail and Telegraph got on the case the university’s management rushed to distance itself from its Rector. BRICUP has written to remind the Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Sally Mapstone that the university has a moral and a legal duty to protect free speech.


Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE                                                                                                                Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of St Andrews

27 November 2023

Dear Professor Mapstone

I write on behalf of my organisation to express our concern at the recent statement that you have issued effectively criticising the freedom of speech legitimately exercised by your university’s elected Rector, Stella Maris. I am copying this message to members of your senior leadership team, as they are co-responsible for the University’s statement.

I note that your statement expresses a commitment to the principles and practices of freedoms of speech and of expression. But it then continues to undermine precisely those principles – which not only underpin the whole values of academia, but are in any case required by the laws of the United Kingdom.

The ‘dismay’ which your statement expresses seems to be that she spoke out on the most pressing humanitarian issue of our day, one which is causing students, even school children, and many others to express their outrage at Israel’s actions. Which part of “apartheid, siege, illegal occupation and collective punishment”, the words Ms Maris used, do you regard as in doubt? All these are egregious violations of international law.

Your official dismay at the Rector’s statement is couched in terms of her duty “to represent all students”. All polling evidence shows that in the UK (as elsewhere), and especially among younger age groups, opinions on Israel’s actions are overwhelmingly critical. It seems then that underlying your criticism is the view that the Rector should keep silent even on issues where there is overwhelming concern, if there is a sufficiently powerful and vocal opposition from an engaged minority. How does that serve the student body? Or freedom of expression?

Your statement opens with a commitment to the principles and practices of freedom of speech and of expression. But freedom of expression must mean the freedom to say things that not everyone will agree with, or the freedom is meaningless. We struggle to square your statement of principle with your attempt at selective silencing of the university’s

elected Rector. This does appear more consistent with a fear of reputational damage than with the upholding of principle.

Yours sincerely

(Professor) Jonathan Rosenhead                                                                                                                                Chair BRICUP

cc Professor Brad Mackay, Derek Watson, Professor Ineke De Moortei, Professor Clare Peddie, Alistair Merrill, Professor Tom Brown, Ester Ruskuc, Professor Monique Mackenzie, Dr Rebekah Widdowfield, Niall Scott