An ex-Durham university donor who gave more than £7 million to his alma mater has cut off his funding and is instead giving his donations to the fight for free speech on campuses.
Mark Hillery - formerly Durham University’s largest donor - has said he will not donate to any university again until “they get their free speech house properly in order”.
In 2022 he gifted £400,000 to the Free Speech Union – a campaign group whose work includes protecting academics.
Mark Hillery has cut off funding for the university until they get their "free speech house" in order Durham University
Free speech advocate Andrew Doyle said the funds received by the organisation are going to do a “lot more good”.
Talking to founder and director of Free Speech Union, Toby Young on GB News he said: “His decision comes after a rise in what he considers campus wokery, which has seen speakers banned and academics bullied out for voicing their opinions. That money is now going to the Free Speech Union.
“This is fantastic that one of these alumni that often gives lots of money to the universities, it's now going to you [Free Speech Union] where it's going to do a whole lot more good.”
Hillery, who read engineering at Durham in the late Eighties, first paused his donations to the university in early 2022 over its prolonged use of online teaching.
Following a string of rows at universities over the dismissal of academics and students over their views, the 57-year-old cut off further funding.
He told the Telegraph: “It’s both depressing and deeply ironic that someone who was a long-time significant supporter of higher education now feels compelled to redirect his financial efforts to protecting free speech within it.
“In the real world, such actions would surely send some alarm bells ringing and prompt some hard-headed, honest questions. But in higher academia, the message currently appears either lost or deemed irrelevant to the cause.”
Free speech controversies at Durham include an attempt by students to oust Prof Tim Luckhurst, who claimed the principle of South College had promoted a “culture of harm and hate” by inviting Rod Liddle, an associate editor of The Spectator, to give a speech.
The funds have now been donated to the Free Speech Union GB News
Toby Young, founder of the union said the organisation had been involved with 15 cases at the University of Durham since 2020.
He told GB News: “I thought that we'd have more of a struggle coming to the defence of people placed under investigation for saying perfectly lawful things, but which someone has found offensive and which the university has decided to take seriously the complaints, I thought we'd have more difficulty.
“But actually, surprisingly, if you push back robustly, if we get our chief legal counsel or one of our legal officers involved, in some cases we have to threaten to go to law.”