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Tom Harwood is a reporter for Guido Fawkes. He was a student at Durham University.

Last week, Durham Students Union released a statement saying that they are looking into ways of shutting down a new pro-life group on campus. What is worse is that this group is entirely unaffiliated with the students union.

“Following the emergence of the pro-life group on campus, I just wanted to confirm that this group is not in any way affiliated to Durham Students’ Union.

I will always advocate for women to have choice when it comes to accessing abortion services, and I strongly believe that these services should be free, safe and accessible. Groups such as this may claim to not be about ‘shaming or blaming’, but the nature of the group inherently promotes a blaming and shaming culture.

We are looking into whether anything can be done but in the meantime I’m sending lots of love and support to anyone impacted by what they’ve seen from the group (and I’m sorry Durham is like this)”

The Students’ Union has taken a step from precluding societies it disagrees with from affiliating to it, to attempting to crack down on the freedom of association of students unrelated to SU activities. I wish I could say I was shocked, or that this was atypical of university culture as a whole.

Sadly this is just a small example of a much, much bigger issue, a nationwide chilling of the freedom to speak and associate at the very places that should be the most open to hearing and discussing different viewpoints and ideas. And it’s all being driven by a wholly unrepresentative class of far left student activists.

Some people on the Left are quick to mock the idea that our universities are becoming increasingly ideologically monochrome, that challenging ideas are being suppressed, or there is a chilling effect on free speech.

They pretend it’s a figment of right-wing imagination, an attempt to discredit left-wing institutions, an invented moral panic. But they’re wrong.

Of course if you’re on the Left and your worldview aligns exactly with that of the academic and student union establishment, you’re less likely to think that free speech is under threat. But if you are interested in discussing different points of view, if you are up for debate, if you believe in challenging yourself as much as challenging others, then you should be worried.

It’s not just pro-life societies have been banned in many universities. Societies focusing on men’s issues have been shot down – and that’s nothing compared to the attitude towards pro Brexit activism. Lincoln Students’ Union even suspended its own Conservative society, after they raised concerns about the SU policy on free speech. On top of this, disagreeable, but unarguably important speakers that students themselves have invited to speak have been banned, and no platformed, by students’ unions. Germaine Greer, ‘Tommy Robinson’, Peter Tatchell to name but a few.

Perhaps more importantly than the visible headline-grabbing examples of intolerance, is the atmosphere. It’s the worry that in seminars students hold back from proper debate and discussion. It’s the reality that students submit arguments they disagree with but appeal to professorial biases in order to have an easier time.

It’s time to worry for universities when just 12 per cent of academics support right wing parties, compared to 50 per cent of the general population.

University lecturers have to take more care to understand their biases, and combat repressive groupthink. To challenge people to challenge their own views and preconceptions. And perhaps most of all, more of the silent apolitical majority of students need to stand up to their self-appointed, unrepresentative representatives.

50 comments for: Tom Harwood: The threat to free speech at universities is not a myth

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