The universities, as institutions as individual members, have always played important roles in all dimensions of life, indeed interweaving with the national culture, science, politics, law and all else.

They spawn the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, of Oxford and Glasgow, who in turn produced policies affecting tertiary education.

Gordon Brown’s abolition of Oxford's ‘college fee’ was one of his first acts as Labour Chancellor, a major blow at the Oxford system, while he ensured his own Scottish equivalents were well-funded and protected.

Today’s controversy about censoring speakers, ‘no platforming’, has received very proper assessment by Ken MacDonald of Wadham, and echoes the same issues facing John Wycliffe and his radical criticisms of church power: the establishment of the church ‘no platformed’ Wycliffe’s views, and his friends in Oxford defended him. He was declared a heretic.

The Anti-Wycliffite Statute of 1401 extended persecution to Wycliffe's remaining followers. The "Constitutions of Oxford" of 1408 aimed to reclaim authority in all ecclesiastical matters, and specifically named John Wycliffe as it banned certain writings, and noted that translation of Scripture into English by unlicensed laity was a crime punishable by charges of heresy.

But Wycliffe’s writings proved to be pre-cursors to the Reformation, and could not be ‘no platformed’ in deepest consequence. Our no-platforming ultra-conservatives today are in the tradition of the heresy hunting persecutors, the same tradition that no-platformed Galileo for his ghastly and unacceptable, offensive, ideas.

We owe Ken MacDonald a debt of thanks in all this.

Universities produce judges, scientists, and rather too many politicians, and academics who effect deep changes in our national institutions.

One such Oxford figure, recently deceased, was Asa Briggs, historian and Provost of Worcester College; a highly regarded academic and life peer. Not elaborated in the obituaries was a key report on the nursing profession, The Briggs Report 1972, which was the basis for the reconstruction of the whole training of nurses, away from the Nightingale tradition of training on hospital wards and instead in the glass and steel seminar rooms of the polytechnics and the ideological shift involved with that move.

His report used TV programmes on the image of nurses as evidence, which was not necessarily convincing.

Preparatory work for this seismic change had been done by Professor Brian Abel-Smith, of the LSE, a Marxist sociologist who deconstructed the Nightingale tradition of service as oppressive. Academics can bring about the deepest possible changes, and in this case arguably lowering standards of practical care and leading to the crisis detailed in the Francis Report on Mid Staffs.

The most current example of Oxford academics involved in a major legal and cultural controversy is that of ‘a new moral panic’ in the wake of the Jimmy Savile child abuse and the rise of false allegations ruining people’s lives.

Professor Carolyn Hoyle, Director of the Centre for Criminology in Oxford University, has researched the impact on 30 people wrongly accused and the devastation on their lives.

Rather like the heretics hunted by the Inquisition, and critics such as Wycliffe, the accusation itself makes the accused guilty by presumption and needing to prove his innocence, reversing the normal process of our criminal law.

This phenomenon was also known in Stalinist Soviet law and its crimes against the state. It is to be hoped that forensic university academic research will contribute to a reappraisal of this moral and legal panic. It may be not only a reaction to Savile and Rolph Harris, but also to the abject and collusive failure of the Rotherham police to act on the claims of abuse at the hands of sex gangs, ignoring even DNA evidence.

The law and CPS may be swinging by over reaction, in the case of historic abuse, towards guilt by allegation.