Greer Freedom of Speech Not Curtailed at University

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 28, 2018 | Go to article overview

Greer Freedom of Speech Not Curtailed at University


Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON Political editor david.williamson@walesonline.co.uk

CARDIFF University was hit by controversy in 2015 when students protested against feminist writer Germaine Greer delivering a lecture, but Westminster's Joint Committee on Human Rights has concluded her freedom of speech was not curtailed.

More than 3,000 people signed a petition against her delivering a lecture on "women and power" on the grounds she had "misogynistic views towards trans women".

The furore made international headlines and fuelled debate about freedom of expression in higher education. But a joint investigation by MPs and members of the House of Lords argues that her "freedom of speech was not curtailed" because she was not prevented from giving her talk.

Their report says: "On the contrary, as Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cardiff, said, the Germaine Greer incident should be held 'up as an example of us valuing these things and protecting academic freedom'."

They claim it is an example of when "students manifested their right to freedom of expression through peaceful protest".

However, they warned that "real problems" discourage students throughout the UK today from putting on "challenging events".

They argue that "protest must not shut down debate" and warn that protesters who try to stop other points of view being heard "infringe upon the rights of others".

Their report is emphatic it is "unacceptable for protestors to deliberately conceal their identities, break in with clear intention to intimidate those exercising their rights to attend meetings or to seek to stop events".

They say universities have a "statutory duty to initiate disciplinary measures if individual students or student groups seek to stop legal speech" and argue the "police should take appropriate action against individuals committing criminal acts in the course of protests".

The report is also critical of "safe spaces" policies intended to ensure "people do not feel threatened because of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation".

It states these policies "need to coexist with and respect free speech" and "cannot cover the whole of the university or university life without impinging on rights to free speech".

The report warns: "Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities."

A Cardiff University spokesman said: "Like all UK universities, we have a duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom. …

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