In a stunning display of irony, campus crazies at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) are holding a vote to ban the university’s free speech society. Voting is likely to take place at the Union General Meeting this Thursday.
The society was recently founded by a group of students who were concerned that campus activists were becoming too eager to censor and ban offensive speech on campus. Dubbed “The Speakeasy,” the student society planned to challenge campus censors by educating students about the history and importance of free speech, holding debates on controversial topics, and inviting no-platformed (banned) public figures to speak to their members.
Speaking to London’s Evening Standard, society co-founder Charlotte Parker said, “Our society is emerging from this growing sense of censorship that seems to be a problem on loads of campuses in universities across the country.”
“We want to encourage discussion of difficult ideas as opposed to closing down debate and undermining students’ ability to make up their own mind,” she said.
As if to confirm the necessity of The Speakesy, campus activists in the student government have responded by trying to kick the society off campus. Maurice Bannerjee Palmer, a student at the university, has submitted a motion to the student union’s next General Meeting, proposing to ban the society. In an article written for the student newspaper, Palmer condemned The Speakeasy’s founders as “self-important” and “ill-informed.”
If all goes according to procedure, students will decide whether or not to ban the society at this Thursday’s meeting. However, defenders of free speech on campus have reason to doubt the impartiality of LSE’s allegedly democratic process. The Chair of the Student Union’s General Meetings, who is supposed to act as a neutral moderator, has made little attempt to hide her bias against The Speakeasy and its founders, accusing them of sexism and racism.
— Katie Flynn (@katieflynn95) January 10, 2016
Although there are few universities on either side of the Atlantic without free speech controversies over the past few years, battles over censorship at the LSE have been particularly fraught. Scandals include the banning of the university’s rugby club over alleged sexim, the removal of the right-leaning newspaper The Sun from campus, and, notoriously, members of the student atheist society being escorted off campus for wearing T-shirts bearing the image of the prophet Mohammed.
With the student government at odds with a fledgling, pro-free speech resistance movement, the LSE will be a campus to watch as the battle over free speech in academia continues.