Students at the University of Reading have chosen to boycott the University Challenge, stating that Jeremy Paxman used “misogynistic and sexist comments” toward other contestants.
The 120 to 105 vote in favour of boycotting the quiz show was made by the Student Union after it came to light that ITV, the producer of the show which airs on BBC2, were not taking the complaints made against the TV show host seriously. Education Officer for the union Niall Hamilton noted in a blog post that no “formal apology” had been issued to the contestants in question as of yet by the show’s producers.
“The response from ITV, the company that produces (although doesn’t air) the famous quiz show, was that they would inform Paxman that he had offended a contestant,” Hamilton wrote. “Misogyny and sexism are not about ‘offending’ contestants, but undermining and oppressing individuals due to their gender. In such a historical and respected institution as University Challenge, these forms of oppression should not be taken lightly.”
Those students who were directly involved in the incident are still unable to comment on the situation as a result of a confidentiality agreement that they signed prior to their appearance on the show, writes Jasmin Gray for The Huffington Post. However, the Student Union noted that the decision to not participate came after comments were made to female contestants on the set that they believe should not be taken lightly.
In response to the situation, a university spokesman stated that the University Challenge is a “national institution” that is used as an opportunity for students to show off their talents. He went on to say that while the University does support any student who feels they have become a victim of prejudice, any conclusions made for current issues need to come from an agreement between the Students’ Union and the producers.
“We want our brightest and best students competing against the top universities in the UK in front of millions of viewers – not waving the white flag and refusing to enter,” said a University of Reading spokesman.
However, many feel the University should support the feelings of the students involved.
Prior to this incident, Jeremy Paxman had received compliments for his critique of the University Challenge, arguing that not enough women were participating. Just last year, he told two participating teams that he would be asking the typical “tough questions,” going on to say, “Few tougher, perhaps, than why on earth there are no women left in this stage of the competition?”
Paxman said he was “baffled” by the claims made by the Student Union, saying he had to “rack his brains” to determine what the argument was about. He believes the incident could stem from a comment he made about a team mascot, a knit version of himself, during a break in the shooting in February 2015, reports Sean Coughlan for BBC News.
He said a technical issue caused a break in the recording, leaving everyone to wait until the situation was handled. According to Paxman, he asked the Reading team about their mascot in an effort to “fill the void,” with a team member responding that it was a Jeremy Paxman doll. Paxman went on to say that he then asked the entire team if they took the doll to bed with them. He added that a complaint was not made at the time of the incident.
While teams for the challenge were previously chosen by the Student Union, the university said it will not be charge of putting a team together to compete, writes Javier Espinoza for The Telegraph. This is thought to be the first time that a student union has ever boycotted the challenge.