‘I’ve been told that I’m not welcome on campus.’ These are the words not of some far-right nutjob or Islamic extremist, falling foul of the National Union of Students’ (NUS) infamous No Platform policy, but Victoria Monro, a second-year student of philosophy and economics at University College London and the president of the UCLU Libertarian Society.
Monro is also on the executive board of Liberty League, a student organisation in the UK that brings together libertarians of both left and right, and holds an annual national conference called the Freedom Forum, which will be taking place in London this weekend. In between conference preparations, I snatched half an hour of Monro’s time for a coffee. It quickly became clear that her own experience of being sidelined on campus was not unique.
As Liberty League’s membership has grown, Monro has found that other members have struggled to set up societies at universities, in which virulent pro-freedom politics seems to upset the meddling student-union bureaucrats who sign off on new student groups. ‘We’ve had members have difficulty just getting an affiliation meeting, it being cancelled time and time again’, she says. ‘It’s difficult to know if that’s purely because we are a libertarian society or if it’s just that unions are ineffective. But either way, it’s pretty damning.’
Indeed, it seems that the layer upon layer of student-union bureaucracy seems to, in itself, create a block to students organising politically. ‘At UCL, they make life so difficult for student societies. The things you have to do to even put on an event. Even if you’ve had a speaker confirmed previously, you have to go through the same process again.’
Unfortunately, it seems the compulsion of student unions to vet what can and can’t be said on campus is rather widespread. It has fostered a palpable atmosphere of groupthink, Monro tells me, where anything contentious or against the status quo is effectively silenced. ‘I do think a lot of self-censorship goes on and, I’m going to be honest, I’m guilty of it myself’, she says. ‘I find myself toning down what I would normally have said in discussions, as otherwise our points would be instantly rejected.’