How unis could be forced to criminalise your ideas and monitor your thoughts

Unis will have to adopt extremist speaker policies to ‘prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism’

Semi-worthy groups of protesters don’t always have a point and their protestations are usually borderline loathsome.

Professors signing letters in their hundreds rarely strikes a chord either. If they can’t get your attention by cancelling lectures, putting their name to something won’t attract any notice either.

But their latest cause celebré against a fresh government bill might stop us having any ideas or fun whatsoever.

Under new laws proposed by the Home Office, universities will have the powers to closely monitor and scrutinise the spreading of ideas that could be even borderline controversial.

The plans have been labelled draconian and demonstrators at several leading universities, including UCL, LSE and Cardiff, have submitted emergency motions to their Student Unions.

Unis will have to adopt extremist speaker policies to “prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism”.

Ministers will be empowered by court orders if a uni persists on inviting back the likes of say, Mufti Menk, the hate preaching gay bashing Islamic cleric who said dogs and pigs were more worthy than homosexuals.

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Inviting extremist speakers to our unis is a troublesome issue. Firstly how do you define extremist?

When the idea of Nick Griffin, the former BNP leader, speaking at a Question Time-esque event  at Nottingham was mooted in 2012, all seven catacombs of hell were opened. Fingers were pointed and no one wanted to stick their neck on the line and say Griffin should have been allowed to speak freely as part of democracy, not that anyone in a higher education institute would agree with him.

The guest speech was canned, much like his attempt to debate at Cambridge, St. Andrews and Bath, all to Griffin’s disappointment.

If a university were to invite a speaker with slightly extreme views, however they are defined, unis are now obligated to keep them on a tight leash. The event must be approved a fortnight in advance, and they’ll analyse in detail any textual materials used. Whether the scrutinising is left on the in-tray of elbow padded academics or buttoned up officials is unclear.

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Ken MacDonald, Lib Dem peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions, bemoaned our demise. He said: “In future, it will be forbidden for anyone to argue that democracy is wrong in principle (goodbye Plato), or to give a talk that fails to ‘respect individual liberty’ or to offer ‘mutual respect and tolerance (to) different faiths and beliefs’.”

These aren’t all good things, and not things the majority will agree with, but they’re bloody interesting. And, within reason, should be voiced and debated, as Griffin should have been brought onto campus.

By shying away from extremist challenges, and attempting to guard them, we’re tripping over ourselves. In the same way the lack of publications willing to offend Islam leave the likes of Charlie Hebdo in isolation, forcing unis to put free speech under the microscope threatens the concept as a whole.

Monitoring and surveillance can be an encroachment on our freedom of expression. Ironically, to defend against those who would seek to bomb our own offices if we publish a cartoon, we’ll end up scrutinised to the extent that we lose what we’re defending.

Universities are placed on a slippery slope, cascading from bastions of free flowing thought to woolly and blinkered scholars in padded cells.

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