Friday, 24 May 2013

Extremism on campus

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

All staff and students at USE had an email message yesterday from the Vice Chancellor, Victor Crispin, about religious and political extremism.

Crispin said that in the light of recent events such as the Boston bombing and the savage killing of a British soldier in Woolwich on Wednesday, it was important that we all consider how best to balance the right to freedom of speech (which was particularly important at a university) with the need to avoid all types of religious and political extremism on campus. He had held meetings with student union officers and representatives of the teaching unions to agree some guidelines that were now up on the university intranet.

In line with NUS policy some organisations are banned from the university campus, most notably the British National Party (BNP) and Hizbut-Tahrir (HuT), an extreme Islamic group. Some recent stories in the media had focused on alleged attempts by Islamic students to force gender segregation in lectures or other meetings on university campuses. UCL had banned the Islamic Education and Research Agency (iERA) after it had enforced gender segregation, with women made to sit at the back of the room, at an event in March called "Islam or Atheism: What makes more sense?". Crispin said that there was no evidence that enforced gender segregation had been attempted at any meetings at USE.

Crispin drew our attention to a new website that had been launched this week at a Universities UK conference in London. It could be found at The site provide information and a range of resources that could help with such issues as external speaker protocols, effective community and police engagement and interfaith relationships on campus. He also recommended a website belonging to the Information Network on Religious Movements at which had produced a leaflet for University Chaplains and student union officers.

Crispin went on to say that he wasn't asking staff or students to spy on other members of the university. However, if they had concerns that certain individuals might have been radicalised, or that groups or societies (not just Islamic ones) were fostering hatred against people on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation, they should let him know immediately. He reminded us that we have links with all three armed services at the university with some students sponsored for their studies and funded research activity that was supported by the MoD.

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