Further to my post earlier this week, Prashant tells me that his motion to the Student Senate was heavily defeated on Wednesday night; there were 24 votes against, 2 in favour and 2 abstentions. My concerns about this matter continue.
Could I appeal for someone from the Student Union/University to present their side of the story? I will publish it on my blog. I don’t wish to imply that Prashant is an unreliable source; it is simply that, with the best wills in the world on all sides, interpretations do vary.
As I have said, I really don’t want to enter into polemic with anyone; I just think that it is important that this matter is discussed openly in a civil manner.
Prashant also tells me that the event went ahead very successfully on Thursday night; there were no problems whatsoever with security and over 60 people attended.
I wouldn’t normally wade into the world of student politics, particularly at a university where I am employed as an academic member of staff, but I have heard of an incident at Cardiff which is worth discussing further. It concerns Cardiff Students for Liberty; this is a new society which was set up by libertarian students earlier this year. I am far from a libertarian, I advocate tighter regulation of markets, but I think it is fantastic that students wish to discuss socio-economic issues in their spare time. This is undoubtedly an endeavour which Cardiff University and Student Union should support.
Via Facebook, it has come to my attention that Cardiff Students for Liberty have encountered problems with a forthcoming event. This is a speech which will be given by Yaron Brook, Chairman of the Board of the Ayn Rand institute and advocate of laissez-faire economics. In the speech, Dr. Brook will contend that laissez-faire capitalism is the best way to lift people out of poverty. I should emphasize that I have heard only one side of this story, which was communicated to me by the founder of Cardiff Students for Liberty, but it appears that significant restrictions have been placed on the ability of Dr. Brook to speak at Cardiff. I cite the motion which Prashant Garg, founder of the society, will present at the Student Senate this week,
‘Dr. Yaron Brook was approved by the Student Union in August, but the University contacted the organisers in the last week of October, imposing several conditions on the event. The University has suspended the venue of the event, imposed a prior booking procedure to be put in place, imposed the condition to have a person moderate the lecture and imposed the condition to hire two members of University security.
The University cited an article in the Tab [a student newspaper], which stated that a few students in University of Exeter did not like the speaker so held up protest signs in the lecture theatre. However, there was no physical violence at all. In fact, University of Exeter has no problem with the speaker and they have invited him to speak again on 15th November, a day before the same event in Cardiff. The Speaker will speak in 6 more Universities in November on a similar subject before he speaks in Cardiff on 16th November, with none of those Universities imposing restrictive conditions on free speech.
When the event was moved from University premises to the Student Union, the responsibility for providing the Security moved to the Student Union, who decided to hire external security, which is charging £101 for a 90-minute event. The new society has only £9 in its account, which the Student Union knows. The Student Union has used economic means to effectively ban the speaker.’
I certainly don’t want to enter into polemic with representatives of the University or Student Union, I stress again that I have only heard one side of this story, but this account does make my antennae twitch. This is particularly the case given recent high profile debates about freedom of speech in universities, one of which (the Germaine Greer event) concerned Cardiff University. I think that there are two issues here:
1/ Why have considerable conditions been imposed upon this event taking place? Prashant tells me that the University consider Dr. Brook a controversial speaker, because of the (non-violent) protests his talk at Exeter attracted. It seems to me as if this is an excessively stringent standard; if all speakers whose views attracted protests (i.e. pretty much any high profile politician/public intellectual) were subject to these conditions, intellectual life at universities would be exceptionally diminished. I would also dismiss any suggestion that the views of Dr. Brook are themselves extreme. I strongly disagree with the tenets of laissez-faire capitalism, but there is a world of a difference between these views and those of the extreme right/left.
2/ Why should Cardiff Students for Liberty have to pay for security? If the welfare of students/the speaker is threatened, surely it is the responsibility of the University/Student Union to ensure safety?
This is obviously a complex matter, it involves both the University and the Student Union, but it seems to me as if there are issues which need to be clarified. If someone from one of these institutions wishes to respond to my post, I will be happy to publish the response/enter into civil dialogue. I should end by saying that I was very happy with the manner in which the Vice-chancellor of Cardiff supported the Greer event in 2015; I hope that a similar attitude can be taken as issues such as this continue to be discussed.