Thursday, December 28, 2017

British Universities warned over free speech by Jo Johnson

Student beliefs must be challenged, says minister

Universities must “open minds, not close them” and face tough new penalties if they do not promote freedom of speech, Jo Johnson will warn today.

Students should expect to encounter controversial opinions and “frank and rigorous discussions”, the universities minister will argue.

His defence of open debate comes amid a row at Oxford University, where dozens of academics have criticised a professor for arguing that Britain’s imperial history was not entirely shameful. Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at the university, has been criticised by colleagues and students after writing an article in The Times calling for a more nuanced appraisal.

In his speech this afternoon, the Minister for Universities and Science will stress the importance of universities being places that “open minds, not close them”, challenging the rise in “no platforming” measures on UK campuses.

In their original form, such measures were intended to prevent talks given by far-right groups, However, in recent years, the use of “no platforming” boycotts has been extended by some student unions to include a range of other issues, including speakers who support Israel.

In October, a new higher education regulator was unveiled – the Office for Students. Under proposals submitted by Mr Johnson, universities could face a variety of penalties from the new body – including fines, suspension or deregulation – for failing to uphold free speech.

“Universities should be places that open minds not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged," Mr Johnson will tell the audience at Limmud.

“In universities in America and worryingly in the UK, we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them.

“We must not allow this to happen. Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions and take part in open, frank and rigorous discussions. That is why the new regulator, the Office for Students, will go even further to ensure that universities promote freedom of speech within the law.”

However, Mr Johnson will also discuss the need for universities to prevent hatred, extremism or racism, saying that “a racist or antisemitic environment is by definition an illiberal one that is completely in opposition to the liberal tradition of our universities”.

Welcoming the move, Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies, who is attending Limmud, said: “Over the last couple of years, Jewish students have been subjected to the most outrageous abuse and intimidation when seeking to discuss Israel, including when they are discussing the routes to peace. Notorious incidents occurred at King's College London and University College London. Regrettably universities often find themselves floundering, unable or unwilling to provide adequate protection for these events. This must urgently change.

“We are pleased to note that the minister will note exceptions for where there is a risk of extremism or hatred, including antisemitism. To aid this, we would urge universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism which the government adopted last year.”


1 comment:

Bird of Paradise said...

Too many closed minds filled with lies from their administrators and brain-dead collage professors