Why we cancelled Kuntzel 1

March 30, 2007

Matthias Kuntzel asks: "Is there no longer room for debate?" at Leeds University (Opinion, March 23).

There certainly is. We are committed to promoting and encouraging debate, inquiry and protest. We will intervene to inhibit free expression of ideas on the campus only if we cannot reasonably guarantee public safety and public order, or if we have grounds to believe an event would be unlawful.

We cancelled Kuntzel's public lecture simply because the university authorities were not given enough notice to provide the normal level of portering, stewarding and security. Public talks on the Middle East typically attract large and lively audiences; passions and tempers can run high. There is no history of violence at such events here, but we are mindful that scuffles have occurred elsewhere. For any public event on the Middle East in our conference hall, we would normally deploy a team of 20 to deal with any problem, from defusing flashpoints to keeping aisles and accesses clear.

It's a system that works, allowing speeches on many shades of opinion to be delivered peaceably. If health and safety issues did arise - and we hadn't made these arrangements - then we would be rightly held accountable.

The university authorities learnt of Kuntzel's lecture only the day before and by then did not have enough time to make arrangements. The head of German spoke to Kuntzel on March 14 and explained this.

While we make no apology for having health and safety at the front of our thinking, the late cancellation is regrettable, and not only because it has been misinterpreted.

We are not in the business of "suppressing critical discussion". The university will always do what is necessary to ensure academic freedom and freedom of expression within the law, and we support the German department's intention to invite Kuntzel to deliver his lecture here in the future.

Michael Arthur
Vice-chancellor
Roger Gair
Secretary Leeds University

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