Students’ unions are no friends of free speech
It seems the penny has finally dropped for Cardiff University students’ union (CUSU). Last week, it passed a ‘Challenge, not censor’ motion at its annual general meeting, in an attempt to promote a new anti-censorship stance for the notoriously ban-happy union. Some have suggested it could herald a new age of pro-free speech, anti-No Platform sentiment on campus.
Although, in some respects, it could be considered a step forwards, the ‘Challenge, not censor’ motion does raise a question: is another AGM motion the best way to counter the slew of CUSU policies?
Many of CUSU’s policies may well have been carried out with good intentions. But there is no doubt that increasingly interventionist policies into student lives – at some unions, even into their sex lives – have had an insidious and detrimental effect on, not just the emotional and academic development of Cardiff students, but the reputation of Cardiff University as a whole. So isn’t it about time that CUSU stopped interfering?
Since last year, when CUSU’s women’s officer, Rachael Melhuish, petitioned to No Platform Germaine Greer, provoking a student backlash, Cardiff’s students have become much more aware of the union’s meddlesome ways. Generally speaking, students understand the need for free speech, and now it seems CUSU has changed tack in an effort to remain relevant to the Cardiff student body and maintain its role in leading it.
Given its recent history of contentious acts of censorship, it is little wonder that CUSU feels it needs to salvage some of its credibility. On top of the attempt to No Platform Greer, CUSU has banned comedian Dapper Laughs, the pop song ‘Blurred Lines’ and the Sun, as well as launching a campaign to tackle lad culture.
Students’ union officials’ attempts to control students’ speech and conduct are patronising at best, and dangerous at worst – often achieving nothing but the infringement of students’ rights and encouraging intolerance. On matters of conduct and speech, there are no blurred lines. Students need to be free to think and speak as they see fit. Isn’t it therefore counter intuitive to allow the CUSU, the same body that helped create this culture of censorship, to determine how best to encourage freedom of speech? We don’t need a motion to challenge censorship – we need to abolish censorship.
Bronwen Weatherby is a writer and a student at Cardiff University.