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Working with the Students Union and Student societies


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Working with the Students Union and Student societies
Jim Dickinson, Chief Executive
University of East Anglia Students' Union

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Working with the Students Union and Student societies

  1. 1. From “No Platform” to “Prevent” and back again Working with the Students Union and Student societies Jim Dickinson, Chief Executive UEA Students' Union
  2. 2. This session • The institutions legal obligations • Charity commission guidance • Charity law and the Prevent statutory duty • But first. A little history…
  3. 3. Who • Director of Policy at NUS • As well as my various “day jobs” I led on PVE and religion & belief issues for NUS • We were “in the thick” of the discussions with UCCF around the regulation of Christian Unions • AFWG, Grant, Village/City myths • Press phone on Boxing Day…Abdulmatallab
  4. 4. A little history • SUs & NUS history of curtailing of free speech • NUS Conference April 1974: “no platform” policy; backdrop of increased racial tension; Enoch Powell/National Front polled 4.7% in Newham South by-election; increases in overseas fees seen as discriminatory • June 75: John Randall attacks Press for way in which they had misrepresented NUS discussions, “blatant lies of the Daily Mail… witch-hunting by the Guardian….Telegraph sounds like the apocryphal Hampstead Liberal” • Fascists/Racists/Conservatives (Charles Clarke)
  5. 5. Randall Closing Speech to EX74 • “To achieve this general freedom [of speech on campus] it became necessary on many occasions to constrain some of the absolute freedoms of individuals. What was the greater freedom? An abstract notion of absolute freedom of speech, or a right to live in freedom from fear of persecution?” Meanwhile: Kevin Gately, student at Warwick, killed on demonstration trying to prevent a National Front rally from taking place. NUS denounced the subsequent enquiry by Lord Scarman as a whitewash, and the net result was to stiffen the resolve of those who supported “no platform”; it was seen as a crucial tool in the fight against racism and one’s position on the issue was, for some, a definitive guide to one’s anti-racist credentials.
  6. 6. 1977-mid 80s • Some ignore NUS and seek to include Conservative and Jewish groups • Sue Slipman successfully argues change in emphasis from “no platform” to “no invitation” (and back again) • Lots of local incidents- ie John Carlisle MP, Tory apologist for apartheid visited various campuses prompting NUS President Phil Woolas to claim that he and others were deliberately trying to “provoke incidents” • Demonstrations and boycotts resulted in negative headlines for NUS and students’ unions and demands for action by the press • 1985 Green Paper “The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s”. Amongst other issues freedom of speech was highlighted along with an indication that if institutions took no action legislation would follow
  7. 7. 1986 Act • CVCP and CDP produced codes of practice that indicated that lawful freedom of speech should be upheld. • Fred Silvester, MP for Manchester Withington February 1986 moved a Private Member’s Bill on “Freedom of Speech”. • The codes, he said, “had too many doors through which the activist can bolt” • Issue taken up by Baroness Cox in the Lords who withdrew her amendment having received assurance by government whips that the issue would be addressed
  8. 8. 1986 Act • The government amendment caused a furore and, after strong pressure in the Lords, was withdrawn and a revised amendment devised with the CVCP. • NUS argued that their “no platform” policy was complementary and supportive of the Public Order Act of 1936 which made it an offence to use abusive and threatening language or stir feelings of racial hatred, but the government were in no mood to listen. • At the final stage of the Bill John Carlisle spoke in support, “It is a message to the vice-chancellors that they must put their own house in order . . . it is a message to the students and students’ union. The House and British tax-payer will not tolerate no-platform polices… it is a message for those extremists – who are intent on putting their views across and preventing others from putting forward views with which they disagree”
  9. 9. 1986 Act • Slow chilling effect • BB “Racist” Tories die out post Apartheid • BNP extremism “OK” to dislike • Public order used as backdoor when EA86 a challenge
  10. 10. Into the 90s • Successive NUS Conferences in the 90s recognised an anti- semitic thread to some on campus activity, and groups such as Al-Muhajiroun, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and (for some more controversially) the Muslim Public Affairs Committee came to sit alongside the BNP and EDL on NUS’ lists. • “No Platform” converted from a policy to a constitutional provision within NUS at an extraordinary conference in Leicester in December 2007, where free speech zealots from UEA that had won an anti No Platform referendum in Norwich (and were closely linked to the revolutionary communist party) lost against a leadership determined to give permanence to the position. • (See SPIKED)
  11. 11. Into the 00s • NUS legal advice on uselessness of EA96 • Charity law, SUs as registered charities, and “risk” • 2010 NUS Conference resolved that “No Platform” was a “blunt tool” for making decisions about speakers • Guidelines to help newly registered students’ union charities balance all speaker request risks on a ‘freedom to speak’ versus ‘freedom from harm’ basis- arguing that students’ unions had the right to set moral standards for speech that went beyond the law. • Development included UJS and FOSIS
  12. 12. Late 00s • These widely adopted guidelines went on to be endorsed by Conservative ministers in both HE and FE- a sharp turnaround from the position they had held in the 80s. • John Hayes as BIS Minister: • “It is my pledge, that while we must not stifle academic debate, neither should we despicable evil fester unchecked. • We simply cannot afford to have our Univerisities, the very spaces in which ideas mix so freely corrupted by ideologies rooted in hatred. • I … stand with the Union of Jewish Students, the NUS, and parliamentarians of all colours in the stuggle against extremism"
  13. 13. 10s • Prevent politically discredited • NUS 2015: “Publicly oppose the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, for the NUS President to issue a public statement condemning the PREVENT Strategy and the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, and alongside civil liberties groups including CAGE, lobby the government to repeal it immediately”
  14. 14. Today: Context • Student Societies are (almost always) union societies • Student newspapers are (almost always) students’ union newspapers • External speakers are usually at students’ union society events
  15. 15. 1986 Act • Direct legislative duty on universities to promote and protect freedom of speech: • "Persons concerned in the government of an institution in the higher or further education sector have a duty to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers…" • Positive and proactive legal duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech is secured • “…governing bodies … issue, and keep updated, a Code of Practice regarding the organisation of meetings and other activities on the university's premises…” • Duty: “…on every individual and body of persons concerned in the government of the institution to take such steps as are reasonably practicable (including where appropriate the initiation of disciplinary measures) to secure that the requirements of the Code of Practice are observed…”, and • “…a duty to ensure that the use of any university premises is not denied to any individual or body of persons on the grounds of their beliefs, views, policies or objectives…”
  16. 16. 1986 Act • Gvt no direct relationship with SU’s so targeted Universities • Codes of practice • Reasonable steps framework… • Power over individual students as – members of the University – Union Presidents as Governing Body Members • Power over SUs as – Accommodation Ownership & – Block Grant negotiations
  17. 17. Competing SU Tradition • No direct application- legal advice • “No Platform” • Refusal to share a platform with certain individuals • Traditionally targeted at the “far right” with open membership lists • Hated by many social liberals • “Open debate” versus “Stop the Spread” • Students have the right to collectively decide to not invite people into their meetings and structures • Freedom to speak v Freedom from harm
  18. 18. Coping with that tension • Historical problem with the 86 act – Motivation – Effectiveness on its target – Bias towards speech freedoms instead of harm freedoms • Playbook around Public Order offences • In today’s context – SU Regulation & Status, – Religious belief and Equality Cultures/Regulation – Different kinds of external influences • …cause real difficulty
  19. 19. Harm from “new” extremism • What are the risks posed by the new “influences” – To individuals – To national security • On the one hand there is no evidence whatsoever that Extremism leads to Violent Extremism • It’s moot as to whether espousing a unpleasant views should be academically protected • Does extremism “lead” to violent extremism?- if it does it’s poorly publically proved • SUs agnostic on the issue of whether it does • Similarly some argue that most “non violent extremism” under debate is also “legitimate criticism of Israel” • The line between criticism of Israel and Anti Semitism is fraught, contested and very difficult to navigate
  20. 20. Which leads you to • SUs not necessarily agreeing on the “gateway drug” argument, but • Wishing to protect students from the harm it is believed that non violent extremism on campus can cause to students • That means SUs probably differ on analysis and motivation but share some objectives with the Government esp in relation to speakers • It also means that sometimes the union may want to ban or regulate where you don't (ie BNP)
  21. 21. Charity Commission • Charity Commission took over regulation of SUs in July 2010 • Within three days they had launched regulatory compliance casework on a students’ union in relation to an external speaker and “non violent extremism” issues • It focussed on an ISOC event & Guest Speaker • Trustees of Students’ Unions as charities are acting both in the best interests of their members and in the best interests of their charities • (These are not necessarily the same as the best interests of the HEI!)
  22. 22. Charity Commission • Risk and compliance • Until now regulatory Freedom of speech duty espoused matched that of the University (and that framed in the UUK report) • Freedom of speech paramount duty- only curtail when required to do so by law • CC argued different emphasis based on mix of legal duties
  23. 23. Charity Regulation • Trust and Charity Law – Acting in the union’s best interests – Safeguard assets incl reputation – Public Benefit – Management of risk • Human Rights Law – Universities as public authorities • Criminal Law – Incl terrorism legislation
  24. 24. Universities v CC • HEFCE hadn’t wanted principal regulator role for SUs during Charities Act discussions • EA94: The governing body of every establishment to which this Part applies shall as regards any students’ union for students at the establishment bring to the attention of all students, at least once a year • any restrictions imposed on the activities of the union by the law relating to charities
  25. 25. CC Message • “The 1986 Act does not place duties on the Charity Trustees of a Students’ Union” • SUs must take into account duties to the University alongside other duties • They may curtail when speakers – Infringe rights of others – Discriminate – Commit an offence – Act in a way contrary to rights of individuals • Trustees must act in the best interests of the charity at all times and would be wrong if they were to consider that the Education Act overrides these factors
  26. 26. CC Message • “Trustees must act in the best interests of the charity at all times and would be wrong if they were to consider that the Education Act overrides these factors • At the moment we understand that the cancellation of an event would only be considered on safety grounds. This approach fails to take into consideration the factors listed above.”
  27. 27. Prevent March 2015 • Institutions should have regard to the duty in the context of their relationship and interactions with student unions and societies. • They will need to have clear policies setting out the activities that are or are not allowed to take place on campus and any online activity directly related to the university. • The policies should set out what is expected from the student unions and societies in relation to Prevent including making clear the need to challenge extremist ideas which risk drawing people into terrorism. • We would expect student unions and societies to work closely with their institution and co-operate with the institutions’ policies.
  28. 28. Prevent March 2015 • Student unions, as charitable bodies, are registered with the Charity Commission and subject to charity laws and regulations, including those that relate to preventing terrorism. • Student Unions should also consider whether their staff and elected officers would benefit from Prevent awareness training or other relevant training provided by the Charity Commission, regional Prevent co-ordinators or others.
  29. 29. Prevent • In a sense “no change” • Like 86, control through Universities • NUS Guidelines not “Prevent” Guidelines but basically work… – Handling events with external speakers that should be compatible with 86 act COPs – Implementation guidelines – Issues and questions to consider when managing risk – Regulatory steps unions can take – Ban, Allow or Regulate (Watch or Debate) – Case Studies – Knowledge, Skills & Partnerships
  30. 30. • Ensure that all involved in making decisions in relation to campus security, academic freedom, free speech and equality rights are familiar with the legal requirements operating in this area and indeed this report, in particular Trustees of students’ unions who will be held accountable by the Charity Commission • Identify a relevant staff person to manage the day to day ‘external speaker’ requests and a relevant senior staff person to manage referred ‘external speaker’ requests. These individuals should have a good relationship with the individual responsible within the parent institution.
  31. 31. • Work with your parent institution to ensure your protocols and policies are aligned to those your parent institution has in place • Work within the framework of the Good Governance Relationship Agreement to maintain a positive relationship with your parent institution • Work alongside your parent institution to develop, if not already in existence, and maintain a mechanism for regular dialogue with relevant external organisations such as the police, local authorities and community groups in order to understand and be aware of potential local issues and tensions that may impact the risk of events with external speakers.
  32. 32. Issues to consider • What about students themselves – Interplay between SU and University codes of discipline • Where is the SU “politically” – BDS & Prevent • External speaker guidelines – Extent to which they end up prescriptive could cause problems- autonomy of SUs and nature of regulation (eg turning Friday prayers into a debate is nonsensical/offensive)
  33. 33. Issues to consider • Focus of SU on issues other than ISIL – Other types of harm than “prevent” harm • Duty of SUs to consider risk themselves – Possibility they will come to different conclusions • Proportionality for the SU • What does the SU consider is in its purvue – The hockey predrinks problem • How does the SU check and monitor – Is it properly resourced (minibus tyres) • Does the SU know who their societies are?
  34. 34. @jim_dickinson