Jonathan Dimbleby has resigned from his honorary fellowship at University College London in protest at its treatment of biologist Sir Tim Hunt after he made controversial remarks about women in science.
The broadcaster and writer accused the college of a “disgraceful” rush to judgment in forcing the Nobel prize-winning scientist to quit his honorary fellowship at UCL and urged other fellows to help change the college’s mind.
Dimbleby said: “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,” he told the Times.
The principle of free speech does not mean you can say whatever you want to with no consequences. “Sir Tim” wasn’t cracking wise at the pub or at a friend’s dinner table – he was doing it at a professional event at a professional conference. He was doing it in his capacity as Big Top Nobel Science Poo-bah. He was doing it, in fact, as among other things an Honorary Professor at UCL. UCL gets to say it doesn’t want him doing that in UCL’s name. UCL says right on the page for honorary academics that it reserves the right to withdraw the honor at any time.
“This is not an offence that should be enough to ensure that a distinguished scientist should be told to resign his position.”
That’s easy for Jonathan Dimbleby to say. He’s not the kind of person who is damaged by entrenched contempt in the work place.
Dimbleby said: “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.”
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and scientist Richard Dawkins have already attacked what they saw as an overreaction to Hunt’s remarks.
As have Brendan O’Neill and Louise Mensch. There’s a whole army of reactionaries pitching a fit about this.