Universities are allowing free speech to be curtailed on campuses in favour of “rule of the mob”, the former equalities chief has warned, as he says vice-Chancellors must stop behaving like “frightened children” and take a stand. The Telegraph reports.
Trevor Phillips, who wrote the National Union of Students’ (NUS) original “no platforming” policy in the 1970s, said that it is now being used in an “ugly” and “authoritarian” way.
“At that time the National Front was making inroads on campuses,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “The point was very simple: to prevent people who belonged to violent, racist groups from organising on campus in the same way as other societies.
“But people have taken that and stretched it beyond all recognition into something ugly and authoritarian. People use what was originally a protective proposition to damn others with whom they disagree.”
It is the first time in 30 years that ministers have intervened to protect free speech at universities, and follows widespread concern about censorship of unfashionable views.
In recent years, students have tried to “no platform” prominent lesbian and gay rights activists including Germaine Greer and Linda Bellos on the basis they hold allegedly “transphobic” views. Christian groups have been barred for fear their presence alienates those of other faiths.
Mr Phillips, who is the former chair of the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the erosion of free speech on campus must not be solely blamed on students.
“Vice-Chancellors must stand up for their basic charters. At the moment university [leaders] pretty much uniformly across the UK are behaving like frightened children who are not standing up for their own values.”
“The debate becomes not the most persuasive argument but who can gather the loudest shouting voices. What you are really talking about is the rule of the mob – that has come to campuses. I find all of those things incredibly threatening.”
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