Exeter University Debating Society Students Risking Online Debates

Student unions haven’t reacted well to the government’s forthcoming legislation that, among other things, will impose a legal duty on them to uphold free speech – and none have been more obstreperous than Exeter University’s Students’ Guild. After the Exeter Socialists Student Society complained to the Guild following the participation of Claire Fox and Joanna Williams in a debate last month, accusing them of being “transphobic”, the Guild responded by imposing a blanket ban on all events involving external speakers until it had put a new Digital Events Protocol and External Speaker Policy in place. 

The Guild told the debating society that its “existing digital event protocols are inadequate and expose our student leaders to significant risk”. Significant risk of exposure to points of view they disagree with.

Yet the Guild hadn’t reckoned on those pesky kids at the Free Speech Union. The FSU wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lisa Roberts, pointing out that Exeter might be in breach of its legal obligations to uphold free speech on campus if she didn’t tell the Guild to stop playing silly buggers. Prof Roberts initially tried to fob off the letter, but after the FSU escalated, drawing her attention to a recent missive she’d received from current Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking her to make sure she “actively challenged” those seeking to curtail free speech at Exeter, she capitulated and told the FSU that all events would resume next week.

FSU General Secretary Toby Young tells Guido: “I’m glad the Vice-Chancellor has finally seen sense. It was as if the Guild saw how censorious other student unions were being and said, ‘Hold my beer.’ Students at Exeter are already being short-changed because of the lockdown. To add to their miseries by cancelling all online events is scandalous.”

Find out more about the Free Speech Union here.

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