- National Union of Students
Stop censoring, Start debating! Support the #Right2Debate campaign at universities.
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The #Right2Debate Movement
We believe that censorship is beginning to characterise student union policies. This is starting to undermine some of the fundamental elements of university life: the right to engage, and attend, constructive debates and express oneself freely as a student.
We call for students unions, the National Union of Students, and other bodies to enact the #Right2Debate policy. This is a mechanism for concerns to be raised by student unions and student groups about a speaker who may be attacking the values of mutual tolerance and respect. This campaign places the onus on the right to debate as a means to counter speakers who propagate divisive and intolerant narratives.
We also call for individuals and groups on all sides of the political spectrum to support this petition. With your support this policy can create a new space for debate, dialogue, and discussion.
Who we are:
The #Right2Debate movement is led by students from across the country and from a wide variety of backgrounds.
We are particularly proud to be supported by:
• Quilliam Student Societies based throughout the United Kingdom;
• Goldsmiths College’s Atheists, Secularists, and Humanists Society; and
• Warwick University’s Atheists, Secularists, and Humanists Society.
• King’s College University’s Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society.
This movement is facilitated and supported by Quilliam. The key editors of the policy include members of the student societies above.
Our Vision for Campus Debate Reform:
We acknowledge and respect the safe-space policy guidelines followed by student unions (SU) from across the country. However SU, and others, are reacting to views through censorship and banning speakers. This movement calls for SU to reform their policies to contest, rather than remove, divisive and/or extremist narratives. We continue to respect the law and agree that speakers should not be allowed onto university campuses if they incite hatred and/or advocate violence.
Banning and censorship decisions by SU’s should only be made in the extreme cases that speakers are breaking the law of inciting hatred or violence. If this is the case, these individuals must be regarded to use threatening words or behaviour to stir up hatred towards the inalienable traits of others (referring to those things that cannot be taken or
given away) and not on the critique, scrutiny or satirisation of ideas or beliefs. Inalienable personal traits of the human being is defined in the virtue of his or her inalienable right to one’s sexuality, gender, racial and cultural identification, and right to hold non-violent belief.
The #Right2Debate movement also views a more trusted relationship between SU and students as vital. This is especially true for students who feel that their SU has failed in its duty to promote free speech or create safe spaces. The policy proposed here aims to solve this problem by creating a more effective line of communication between students. This will have a uniform, transparent, structure that helps students express their discontent with SU decision-making on extremist or divisive speakers on campus. It makes clear the requirements and expectations of all parties.
Why Debate Over Censorship?:
Extremist or divisive ideologies must be challenged by an empowered civil society. Allowing extremist and divisive speakers to lecture on university campuses without any challenge means their toxic, but sometimes persuasive, views can contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance. This leads to vulnerable individuals becoming more susceptible to radicalisation, makes minority student communities feel unsafe, and undermines a positive university experience for all.
However banning individuals means compromising free speech and leaving these ideologies uncontested, pushing those wishing to discuss difficult issues towards other platforms potentially under negative influence (for example social media and online forums).
The only way to deal with these issues is to empower the campus community through civil dialogue and debate. This means supporting students to challenge extremist and divisive views with the values of mutual tolerance and respect.
Few disagree that universities should be a bastion for free thought and ideas. It is clear that many views can, and do, cause offence and that this can lead to frank discussion. However this does not, on its own, constitute grounds for censorship. Instead students need to feel confident that they have the means to counter extremist and divisive views in a safe and civil manner.
The university environment’s greatest asset is its rich tapestry of ideas. Debating these ideas equips students with the capacity to think critically and expand their horizons.They should not be pushed towards conforming to a particular viewpoint.
This movement can only be successful if students and young people take the lead. It also requires close working relationships with relevant authorities, like the National Union of Students and university officials.
To take part in this movement students are advised to contact organisations that share their values and goals. They should work with them to obtain signatures of support and raise awareness of the #Right2Debate movement. Together they should work with officials at their university to educate them about #Right2Debate and engage their student union. They should also discuss the movement with National Union of
Students representatives. This is a vital part of the movement’s engagement with those who represent and work for students.
However the most important part of #Right2Debate is students working together to support the movement. Obtaining support, engaging with other societies, and raising awareness of free speech and debate are at the heart of this work. Organising events and engaging with important individuals in their local community will make it even more effective.
The #RIGHT2DEBATE Policy:
This policy is intended to support the rights of students to invite speakers to address themselves and others, alongside the rights of other students who have objections to these speakers being given a platform.
If a speaker is invited by a society it is expected that they believe such an action will not breach their institution’s safe space or external speaker policy. It is also expected that if a student society protests this invitation or an SU officer vetoes the speaker’s presence, then this is because the speaker is thought to be in contravention of these policies.
These judgements are subjective and both sides of this dispute may have valid arguments. Implementing the #Right2Debate policy will give parties a mechanism to deal with their dispute in a clear and transparent manner. This allows speakers who have not broken the law, but promote intolerance, to accept their invitation but have their narratives contested.
This process begins with the #Right2Debate petition developed by students and presented to their SU.
The #Right2Debate Petition:
This petition operates with three assumptions:
1. Speakers are operating legally, i.e. not inciting hatred and violence. There is no justification for banning speakers unless specific evidence is presented that shows they would incite hatred and violence as defined by law. This must not be used to overturn speakers that are placed on the National Union of Student’s ‘No Platform’ list.
2. SU policy on external speakers is clear to the student body. Students must have clear and open access to their SU’s policy on external speakers and understand how policies, such as safe space policies, are enacted.
3. SU and other organisations have a duty to protect freedom of speech and identify speakers who promote intolerance but do not incite hatred and
violence as defined by law. ‘Safe space’ policies in universities are important for ensuring the safety of all university communities. Protecting these with an emphasis on debate and a balanced approach are vital.
The Process – Prior to the Event
1. If a speaker is deemed extreme/divisive by a student society or SU
officer (but is considered legal to speak) they can host a ‘#Right2Debate’
petition. This requires a minimum of 25 verified signatures from current
students and must be supported by citable evidence that the speaker should be contested because they hold sufficiently objectionable or extreme views in breach of relevant policies. It should then be presented to senior SU management alongside suggestions for speakers to contest the subject of the petition.
2. When senior SU management receive the #Right2Debate petition they should meet and discuss whether to accept or reject it. This is the SU’s decision and they should only reject it if they judge that the risk of not complying with their duties of care and ensuring individuals are not drawn into terrorism is minimal. A response should be received within 5 working days of the petition being presented.
3. The SU’s decision must be publically stated alongside a statement explaining that decision and the original petition. It is the SU’s duty to do this. If rejected the host society of the petition has a right to reply that must also be uploaded alongside this material.
4. A petition that has achieved 25 verified signatures must also be passed to the university’s senior leadership.
5. If a petition is successful then the relevant SU is obliged to provide a speaker agreed with the host society of that petition. This speaker will provide a differing opinion that will challenge the petition’s subject. If agreement cannot be achieved or it is not possible to obtain a speaker, then the petition’s host society will be given a minimum 30-minute platform during the mandatory hour-long Q&A session. Confirmed additional speakers or the failure to obtain additional speakers must be published by the SU.
6. A petition cannot be presented twice for the same event. One application
should be made for multiple speakers at one session (e.g. a debate, not a series of debates). Opposing panels should always be balanced.
The Process – During the Event
1. An SU welfare representative must be present at every event covered by the #Right2Debate mechanism.
2. Speakers must not speak for more than 30 minutes without Q&A.
3. Those who presented the petition are expected to attend the event and abide by the rules of engagement. Persistent disruption of the event by another speaker will result in a penalisation of the time allocated to them. The right of protect must not infringe on the right of others to voice their opinion. Therefore any demonstration is permissible if considered reasonable by SU representatives and campus officials.
4. Causing persistent disruption, damaging property, sabotaging equipment, and infringing on the wellbeing of others will not be tolerated. The SU representative and campus officials have the authority to remove those that they deem to be disruptive.
5. All events subject to the #Right2Debate mechanism should be filmed and archived on a publically assessable university website (with relevant
The Process – Event Format
1. All events must be chaired and moderated.
2. The chair of the event must be an SU officer and be given a full transcript of the speakers’ presentations. The chair can impeach the speaker if this script does not reflect the tone and content of their presentation.
3. The chair must ensure the speaking times, Q&A periods, and other
requirements are observed.
- National Union of Students
We believe that censorship is beginning to characterise student union policies. This is starting to undermine some of the fundamental elements of university life: the right to
engage, and attend, constructive debates and express oneself freely as a student.
We call for students unions, the National Union of Students, and other bodies to enact the #Right2Debate policy. This is a mechanism for concerns to be raised by student unions and groups about a speaker who may be attacking the values of mutual tolerance and respect. This campaign places the onus on the right to debate as a means to counter speakers who propagate divisive and intolerant narratives.
We urge the NUS to respond and support this policy in students unions at UK universities.
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