V-cs bid to curb extremism

January 16, 1998

UNIVERSITIES can ban extremist groups on campus if they pose a threat to safety, vice chancellors argue, writes Tony Tysome.

A working group chaired by University of London vice chancellor Graham Zellick has drafted clauses which it wants universities and student unions to include in their constitutions and codes of practice.

The clauses are designed to help universities fulfil their duty in law to enforce and promote principles of free speech and enquiry, and take steps to prevent discrimination or incitement to racial hatred.

They are expected to be included in the final report of Professor Zellick's working group, set up by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals to advise institutions on their duties in the light of a growing number of incidents of "extremism and intolerance".

Professor Zellick said clashes between students and student groups, particularly involving religious factions, appear to be on the increase. Some of the toughest situations arise in relation to institutions' duties laid out in section 43 of the 1986 Education Act, which says they cannot refuse a platform or insist on the cancellation of an invitation to a person or body on account of their views, policies or objectives, however odious.

But, Professor Zellick's group has concluded this does not curtail any general power of a university to ban an internal group for its past or future actions, or to cancel or stop a meeting if there is a risk to safety.

Douglas Trainer, president of the National Union of Students, said this was a difficult area on which student unions and institutions would probably welcome advice.

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