I have a brilliant suggestion for a new TV detective drama. Its glamorous but sternly correct heroine is newly in charge of enforcing ‘diversity’ among the domes and towers of Oxford.
She lingers in its donnish common rooms, listening out for incorrect remarks and swooping righteously on those who ‘stereotype minorities’.
As usual there are false leads and picturesque panoramas of Oxford embowered in water meadows. Unlikely suspects are revealed in the final minutes as homophobic reactionaries – or even Christians.
At the end of each episode we see handcuffed offenders being led away to police cars, their heads pushed down by officious constables as they bend to take the seat of shame.
Actually some of this is happening now. The arrests are a little way off still, but the nasty snooping is going on, and careers are in danger. We know this because of what happened to former Lord Chancellor Michael Gove when he recently attended a dinner at an Oxford College.
Before he sat down, his hosts gave Mr Gove a warning. He should be ‘aware’ the college had a diversity officer. He wondered why there were warning him. He was told: ‘The job of the diversity officer… was to be alive to any comments in informal conversation or formal teaching that might be thought to be capable of giving offence to third parties.’
‘So anything that seemed to stereotype, show disrespect towards minorities or create a climate in which an individual might feel their dignity infringed was to be recorded,’ reflected Gove.
The culprit would be warned to stop. But if he persisted, he would be ‘disciplined’.
Gove concluded: ‘The job of the diversity officer in an explicitly intellectual institution was thus… to reduce the range of opinions expressed and thereby limit intellectual diversity.’
He will not name the college. But I researched and found that All Souls, famous round the world for its concentrated brainpower, does indeed have such a diversity officer. Its Warden, Professor Sir John Vickers, says he ‘does not recognise the description’.
But I think I do. The College website boasts: ‘The knowledge and awareness of diversity issues in the College has improved considerably in the last four years with the appointment of a Diversity Fellow.’
One of that official’s achievements has been ‘reminding colleagues of the importance of upholding equality principles in all aspects of College life’.
We know that students themselves are often childishly intolerant. But is liberty safe when a great institution of learning such as All Souls behaves like this?
Universities are supposed to be places where everything can be discussed freely. If Oxford is reduced to sending thought policemen to stalk its quadrangles, then what hope is there for those who speak out of turn in a normal workplace or anywhere else where willing narks are listening and officious ears are flapping?