Claire Locke said Malcolm Gillies had "offended" Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs. There had been no calls from students to create alcohol-free areas on the London Met campus, she said.
Ms Locke argued that London Met's Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures”. Muslim students’ union officers were currently fighting for a new student bar to be opened at the university’s City campus, she added.
Ms Locke said it was not true that Muslim students did not drink, and that in the previous academic year three out of the four Muslim students’ union officers had drunk alcohol. “He should retract the comments and apologise to the students he has offended,” she said.
Responding to her comments, Professor Gillies said that the Islamic prohibition against alcohol was “quite clear”, although the practice of Muslims regarding drink varied.
“It’s indisputably clear because it’s immoral [in Islam],” he said. “If you speak to virtually any Muslim student they will tell you what their teaching is.”
Professor Gillies said that some students, particularly Muslim women, would feel uncomfortable attending university events in a pub, for example, and that the concerns he raised could apply to other groups such as American Protestants or Buddhists.
“What we don’t want is the tyranny of a majority view,” he said, arguing that universities needed to have spaces where any type of student felt comfortable.
The proposals have generated a largely negative response online.
Speaking about the reaction to Professor Gillies’ comments, Ms Locke said: “I think it’s been extremely unhelpful [for London Met]. I don’t think the vice-chancellor has thought this through properly.”
She said that the university was shutting down a building called the Hub, which contains a bar, and the union was seeking a replacement. “Is he just generalising [about] the Muslim community in order to justify cuts to the student services?” she asked.