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Crusading veggies steamroll university into web censorship

'Why vegetarians should be force fed with lard'

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A provocative essay has been pulled from servers by Newcastle University authorities following complaints from vegetarians.

Nikolas Lloyd, who was granted IT services as a visiting fellow in evolutionary psychology, has had all his pages taken down and his email access rescinded.

Forum members on a vegetarian dating site took exception to the title of the piece “Why vegetarians should be force fed with lard”. It was one of a series of deliberately incendiary treatises, which included “Why banning hunting is wrong”, and “A woman's place”.

In his vegetarianism article, Lloyd argues against pro-veggie reasoning in tongue-in-cheek style. A typical passage reads:

Most vegetarians are women. In Britain, a person is doubly likely to suffer from vegetarianism if he is female...when men split up from their veggie girlfriends, they near invariably start enjoying meat again. This goes to prove amongst other things that men really will do ANYTHING for sex.

The full tirade has been rescued from Google's cache and is available here.

Not seeing the funny side, tofu fanciers on veggieromance.com fired off complaints to university postmaster Quentin Campbell. He temporarily suspended Lloyd's access while the gripes were investigated under the university's usage policies.

Campbell then replied in an email: “I am mindful of the obligation of the University, under section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, to protect the freedom of speech of its staff.”

The section of the Act he refers to says:

Take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.

He concluded: “You may not agree with the personal opinions that Nikolas Lloyd publishes on our staff website here, but as his views do not appear to break the law of the UK, the university cannot without proper cause prevent him from expressing them.”

In a later, more detailed official statement, he told the vegetarians the pages would stand, since the Education Act trumps the institution's own rules regarding material “intended to annoy”. The email dialogue is in the veggieromance.com thread here.

That was back in January, and seemed to put an end to the bean curd-induced humour vacuum.

Last week though, a letter dropped on Lloyd's doormat from university Registrar John Hogan telling him that all his IT privileges, conferred a decade ago, were to be removed with immediate effect.

According to university authorities, Lloyd's downfall was that, as a visiting fellow, he was not an official member of staff and so lacked the protection of the legislation. They contend their own regulations meant the university was obliged to crumble under the weight of complaints from the offended cabbage regarders. The decision was taken at the very highest level of the university administration.

Lloyd's access via the Department of Psychology was sponsored by evolutionary psychiatry academic Dr Bruce Charlton, who uses some of Lloyd's respected work on evolutionary debates in his teaching.

Charlton says the suspension of IT services is a big blow to Lloyd, who pursued his interest in the field on a low income, and a “malicious, frivolous” attack should have been resisted by authorities. He added that it is an “ominous” sign that people with “hurt feelings” can bring about a crisis meeting in the upper echelons of management.

He also pointed out that the action sets a worrying precedent for the institution; people can take offence at anything, so the regulations offer no protection to anything on the site.

Some of the meat-shy posters had the mettle to stand up for Lloyd's rights of free speech, however. In the spirit of the debate, one joked: “Personally, I believe that nobody should be allowed to publish or say anything that offends me, and I will always campaign to get it removed so that no one else is allowed to read it...I plan to go over to Nikolas Lloyd's house and set fire to it.” ®

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