Jeremy Paxman ‘baffled’ by University Challenge boycott

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By Naina Bhardwai, News Editor

Jeremy Paxman says he is “baffled” by students voting to boycott University Challenge over claims that a complaint about “misogynistic and sexist comments” was not taken seriously enough.

The University of Reading’s students’ union voted 120 to 105 in favour of adopting a policy of boycotting the show, after hearing claims relating to a previous appearance by the university’s team.

The vote followed claims that concerns about a sexist comment had been not been taken seriously – but the students’ union said that  due to a confidentiality agreement signed by the show’s contestants, they have  been unable to give details of the incident.

Paxman has suggested that it might be about comments he made about a knitted mascot of himself during a break in recording the episode against Imperial College London

He explained: “I have racked my brains to discover what on earth the Reading students’ union is on about.”

“I think they’re referring to a recording of University Challenge which took place in February 2015, though I am baffled at why it has become an issue a year-and-a-half later.

“There was a technical fault which meant we had to interrupt the recording, leaving all of us sitting at our desks in the studio while the problem was sorted out in the control gallery.

“In the conversation to fill the void – in a brightly lit studio, in front of all eight contestants, a full studio crew and an audience of several hundred spectators – I asked the Reading team about the mascot sitting on their desk.

“One of them said it was a hand-knitted Jeremy Paxman doll. Across the several yards separating the chairman’s desk from the teams, I asked the whole team whether they took it to bed with them.

“Though no complaint was made at the time, this, apparently, is what has upset them.”

Samantha Buzzard, the Reading Captain and a PhD student working on mathematical modelling of the surface melt of Antarctic ice shelves, was the team’s only woman and took offence.

Reading went on to lose by 110 points to Imperial’s 285.

The student union’s Education Officer, Niall Hamilton wrote in a blog post that:

“Students voted to boycott the BBC programme University Challenge.

“This incident resulted in a complaint being filed by contestants. The response by ITV was that they would inform Paxman that he had offended a contestant. They did not issue a formal apology and they did not produce any consolation to the contestants.

”This is due to misogynistic and sexist comments made to previous members of the University of Reading team by Jeremy Paxman.

“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.

“Serious investigations and repercussions must be made to ensure women feel comfortable participating in University Challenge.

”The Students’ Union should not be in a position to promote and encourage students to

participate in an institution with a serious lack of regard for the equality and accessibility of women on their show, “ he added.

However, the university said the show is a “national institution” and a replacement team will be independently assembled to represent Reading in the contest since the university wants their “brightest and best students competing against the top universities in the UK in front of millions of viewers.”

A University Spokeswoman said:

“We respect the Union’s right to step down from entering a team after 120 students voted to boycott the programme and 105 against. There are hundreds more students who want to take part.

“The biggest issue with University Challenge is the outrageous social media abuse and trolling of female contestants,” they said.

“It is not news there is a gender imbalance on University Challenge – Jeremy Paxman himself raised it last year.”

“The best way of combating prejudice and encouraging women to take part is fronting up and entering a team, not avoiding the programme.”

A consderable number of female students have said they had been put off entering the competition for fear of online abuse.

A spokesman for the show said: “Last year producers spoke with a Reading university contestant about a comment made during a conversation with the whole team, which would appear to have been misinterpreted.

“The student union’s recent comments are surprising. We are, however, pleased that Reading university continues to apply for the show.”

But the university has come under fire for failing to support student’s views.

This is not the first time he has been accused of sexism, however; when asking a starter question on the AFC Asian Cup during a programme aired in 2015, the veteran TV presenter was called out for appearing surprised at a female contestant’s football knowledge.

Teams from Reading have appeared on University Challenge five times since 2000.

University Challenge is an academic quiz show on BBC2 but produced by ITV where teams of students from UK universities answer questions on all manner of subjects.

According to ITV, producers from the show spoke to a member of Reading’s team at the time and they indicated they were satisfied with the response.

It is understood to be the first time a university students’ union has ever boycotted the programme.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;