Campus extremism report gives green light to radical speakers

By Marcus Dysch, February 18, 2011

Guidelines on tackling extremism and hate speakers on British university campuses have been published following a year-long investigation.

Universities UK, the umbrella group representing university heads, said it could find “no simple answers or absolute rules” but sets out guidance on dealing with controversial speakers, protests, student societies and serious incidents on campus.

The report gives the green light to universities to continue inviting radical speakers to appear on campus by encouraging institutions to “engage” with them.

Professor Malcolm Grant, who chaired the working group, said: “Views expressed within universities…may sometimes appear to be extreme or even offensive. However, unless views can be expressed they cannot also be challenged.”

The Union of Jewish Students said: "UUK have failed to provide any clear, practical guidance to the sector on the issue of hate speech and extremism on campus. The report provides no answers whatsoever."

Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities recommends a review of current policies and highlights the existing use of checklists at some campuses which have previously hosted extreme speakers.

It suggests universities should identify a senior staff member to take control of security issues.

UUK said university authorities must work with student unions to provide clear information about “rights and responsibilities” in relation to “academic freedom, free speech and equality rights”.

It also promotes maintaining regular dialogue with community groups. The Board of Deputies has increasingly intervened to encourage universities to take greater action against extreme speakers.

The report highlights one example of a Jewish community raising concerns with an institution about the impact of a speaker on the university’s Jewish students.

Prof Grant said: “The survey findings confirm how seriously universities take their responsibilities in relation to the safety and security of their staff and students, alongside their obligations to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom.

“But all freedoms have limits imposed by law and these considerations are vital to ensure the safety and well being of students, staff and the wider community. Universities must continue to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate.

“But it is emphatically not their function to impede the exercise of fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of speech, through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy.”

Carly McKenzie, UJS campaigns director, said: "If UUK believe that checklists and flowcharts are the solution to campus hate speech and extremism, they clearly do not understand the severity of the problem."

The working group was established in January last year in response to the arrest of UCL graduate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who was arrested on suspicion of terrorism in the United States.

Last updated: 3:09pm, February 18 2011