Universities should be open for democratic debate

Submitted by Matthew on 11 February, 2015 - 11:43 Author: Gemma Short

Universities are increasingly becoming depoliticised zones, where political debate, campaigning and promotion of views are policed, controlled and pushed out.

When recently distributing posters for Workers' Liberty's socialist feminist conference All the Rage at London universities, I was repeatedly stopped from putting up posters, told posters must be approved by the university or the Students Union, unable to find poster boards not behind locked plastic casing or unable to gain entry to university premises.

The blockages come not from political concern over the content of the event, or a certain speaker (although that would also be wrong), but from an all-encompassing policing and commercialisation of university spaces.

At Sheffield University, where I was a student five years ago, postering and flyering on campus used to be relatively simple. There were many poster boards in Student Union and university buildings and outside where posters from a variety of political and social events were found. Banners were often hung from trees and the space outside the Student Union building was full of leaflet distributors every day from noon to 2 pm.

In recent years, student activists at the same university have been prevented from leafletting on campus, told to move stalls from campus (both political and charitable organisations). They find it hard to book meeting rooms or put up posters. Many poster boards have been removed.

These are not the only threats to free speech at university. We need to assert the idea that universities are places of political debate, where racist, sexist, homophobic views should be challenged and protested against, not bureaucratically removed from view. They are places where students should be free to use university and Student Union space and resources.

Workers' Liberty students have written a model motion about free speech on campus. See here.

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