Free speech wins the day

October 26, 2007

Students at the University of East Anglia have rejected the National Union of Students' policy of excluding organisations perceived to be racist or fascist from campus debates.

The "no platform" policy gives the NUS steering committee sole discretion to ban any group and its membership from all NUS activities including participation in an election. Hizb ut-Tahrir, the British National Party and the anti-immigration group Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty are currently subject to the no-platform policy.

The UEA motion, which argued that illiberal, extremist or racist ideologies must be openly confronted if they are to be discredited, split the UEA students union executive. It was passed by a narrow majority.

Richard Reynolds, a UEA undergraduate and founder of the student version of campaigning group Academics for Academic Freedom, said: "I am delighted that the motion was passed. We should be taking racists on in debate rather than trying to hush them up." The argument that ethnic minority and gay students needed to be protected from those with racist and homophobic views was patronising, he added.

Dennis Hayes, founder of Academics for Academic Freedom, said the move was a breakthrough: "It represents a sea change in the attitudes of students unions."

Gemma Tumelty, NUS president, said: "Our primary concern is the safety of our members, many of whom are foreign nationals or from black and ethnic minority communities. The NUS believes the right to freedom of expression must not be separated from, or take precedence over, the right to freedom from oppression."

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