There is something terribly wrong about our university, or better said, with our Students’ Union. A threat only comparable to the fiercest authoritarian governments in the world. The Students’ Union, our Students’ Union, has become a direct threat to our freedom of speech on campus. Beware, this is not an attack exclusively on certain groups at university – it is an attack on the most basic human liberties and the very essence of university.
The crisis of freedom of speech that British universities suffer is not a secret. The University of Manchester is a clear example of this crisis, and unfortunately, one of the best cases to exemplify it. With a SU that vainglories itself as a liberal, inclusive, feminist, anti-colonialist and among others, organisation, its officers have tried to portray themselves as true representatives of the student body. However, here is a secret they don’t want you to know: even though the clear majority of British students believe in progressive politics, the SU do not represent their views. Because they are not progressive, they are authoritarian. How can an organisation elected by only around 35 per cent of the student body be legitimate?
We find ourselves with a despotic elite that controls a big budget and is invested with authority of the highest level of student representation, yet lacks the legitimacy to take the kind of decisions it has been taking.
As a result we find ourselves with a despotic elite that controls a big budget and is invested with authority of the highest level of student representation, yet lacks the legitimacy to take the kind of decisions it has been taking. The repercussions are, of course, terrible in many aspects but freedom on campus is the biggest loser. The latest proof of the SU’s anti-democratic behaviour is exposed in the fierce assault recently launched against freedom of speech on campus. Julie Bindel, a radical feminist, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay conservative, have been banned from speaking at our university on a feminism and freedom of speech event because, as they argued when banning Mr. Yiannopoulos “We believe these views could incite hatred against both trans* people and women who have experienced sexual violence. As we believe it is probable these views would be aired in this discussion should he be allowed to speak on campus, we have no choice but to ban him”. The level of arrogance shown by the SU has surpassed any level of cynicism ever seen before. We have had no choice but to censor and close the debate, depriving students from listening to different views- they claim. As if we are not old enough to be confronted with controversial ideas or smart enough to critically analyse them. This pretentious attitude of moral superiority, based in their self-imposed nanny powers, is the utmost proof of what our Students’ Union is about: an organisation that has constantly opposed freedom of any kind.
There are many insecurities among the SU executive team; fear of being challenged, fear of being offended, fear of listening to uncomfortable views. But most importantly, and most dangerously, there is an incredible fear of debating in a responsible and free environment. I’m neither a feminist, nor a progressive student but I’m utterly angry with the fact that someone like Julie Bindel cannot come to our University to speak about her ideas on a campus that 100 years ago saw courageous women fighting for their rights in the suffragette movement. I probably disagree as much as the SU does with her ideas on trans* people- but unlike them, I am ready to be confronted by different arguments and to make up my mind after a balanced debate between two parts. And my experience on campus tells me I’m not alone; actually the ones that have lost this debate against the media and the student body are the SU itself. The outrageous news is all over the UK media and even papers in the US have published the story; more importantly, reading the comments about the statement prove that many students disagree with the decision.
It’s not easy to be a dissident against such an authoritarian organisation. Many times students and the SU have shown their intolerance towards different ideas to the point of censorship, and that is something which must be rejected by whoever believes in free speech- thankfully this is a majority. I have never felt ashamed for defending my beliefs and arguing my thoughts with lecturers or fellow classmates that think differently- indeed, although we disagree most of the time, we respect each other and are able to recognise our differences. University is not a place to feel comfortable at all times, but a platform upon which to be challenged and to critically analyse different positions. Mature people can see the difference between hurting someone’s feelings and objecting to someone’s ideas; if you can’t see the difference, university might not be the place for you.
Let me then be clear on this issue. This is not a fight between left-wing and right-wing students. The struggle we are witnessing is one that must unite every student that believes in freedom and recognises the essence of university as an institution open to debate. It is unacceptable that the biggest type of violence that UK universities face in the twenty-first century is censorship. Yes, because censoring such an inalienable right like freedom of speech must never be tolerated. This is why it is important to understand how serious these actions are and why irrespectively of your political position, you should find this behaviour unacceptable. This is not a fight for an ideology, but for the right to express ideas without facing censorship. We must understand that there is no difference between censoring a radical feminist or gay conservative. Whatever your position is, it is fundamental to recognise that censoring other people’s ideas is plainly wrong. I believe we must oppose this behaviour from the SU. If we are really expecting to build a better future we must start defending our most basic liberties from those who want to take them away. TMM
This article was edited at 04:34 29-10-2015 to correct the voter turnout at SU Exec elections, which was of 35% rather than the previously stated 25%