Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Vince Cable on the threat to free debate in universities

Times Higher Education reports a talk by Vince Cable to the University of London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Vince expressed his fear that new anti-terror legislation will lead to universities becoming sterile institutions:
Sir Vince, who held responsibility for universities from 2010 until losing his Twickenham parliamentary seat in May’s general election, also warned that new rules that require universities to vet external speakers to see whether they hold 'extremist' views are likely to be applied zealously by institutions, thereby inhibiting free speech. 
"Universities – being naturally risk-averse and cautious – will err on the side of caution and try to stop certain Islamic speakers," said Sir Vince. 
"They will then be accused of being Islamophobic and choose to ban other types of speakers…[and] pursue bland, uncontroversial debates, driving underground contentious debate that causes difficulty," he added. 
Pushing legitimate debate away from campuses was 'profoundly dangerous'” because controversial views could not be challenged in the same way as they can during open forums at universities, said Sir Vince, a former president of the Cambridge Union. 
"I have a serious problem with action to drive underground people who are described as 'extremists', which could be applied to people with a whole range of views," he said.
Add to this the fact that today's students seem less inclined to invite speakers who will outrage their elders, and more inclined to call for them to be banned if someone else does, and I fear Vince is right.

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