Bristol Uni Free Speech Society founder quits, citing lack of free speech

Posen says the society are hesitant on the side of ‘increasing free speech and viewpoint diversity’

The founder of the Bristol Uni Free Speech Society has resigned his role on the committee as Events Coordinator, saying that the society is not longer prioritising free speech, and that he has “fundamental disagreements on core values that have emerged under the new committee”.

Izzy Posen said in a statement: “I would have hoped that in a free speech society, embracing [government efforts to ensure free speech] would be a given. That has not been the case under the current leadership of the Bristol Free Speech Society”, adding: “the value clash was too difficult to reconcile.”

Posen, who co-founded the society three years ago, said that Toby Young’s controversial Free Speech Union is “the only powerful organisation doing good things for free speech” in contrast to the Bristol Uni Free Speech Society.

Harry Walker, President of the society, told The Guardian last month that he had withdrawn from the apparent new youth arm of the Free Speech Union due to “diverse viewpoints” being “shut down”. (Walker and other society members were involved only in personal capacities).

In a statement to The Bristol Tab, the Bristol Uni Free Speech society said: “We are all saddened to see him go – Izzy’s personal charisma and drive have been fundamental to the society’s continued success and he has consistently been one of our most dynamic and outspoken members.”

They declined to address the reasons behind Posen’s departure in the statement or in response to questions from The Bristol Tab, saying they will be “issuing a further statement dealing with the context of Izzy’s resignation, and addressing some of the concerns he has raised, in the near future.”

According to the Free Speech Society, Posen only informed the committee today of his intention to resign, but added that he plans to remain active in the society as a member.

This is not the first controversy involving the Free Speech Society. In July last year, the committee decided to abandon its own Facebook group due to discussions deteriorating into “insults, personal attacks and bigotry”.

Posen said that he co-founded the society “to disrupt what felt to us as a dogmatic orthodoxy on campus and to increase viewpoint diversity”, and described immense success in face of “enormous opposition and obstacles”, mentioning that the society was nominated for “most inclusive society” in the Bristol SU Society Awards in 2019.

He detailed his efforts to increase free speech and eliminate “censorship on campus”, and described the government’s recent announcement on appointing a Free Speech Champion as “exciting”.

However, he said that his fellow committee members did not embrace what he views as “positive developments”, and although he feels that their position is valid, he said: “the value clash was too difficult to reconcile”.

Posen concluded by encouraging students to participate in the committee elections in the spring, saying that he would be happy to discuss “the best way to go about” running for a role.

In a statement to The Bristol Tab, the Free Speech Society Committee said that Posen resigned “due to disagreements over policy as well as for personal reasons.”

They added: “We would like to emphasise that Izzy’s decision to resign was entirely his own and is regretted by the remainder of the committee – regardless we wish him only the best and look forward to him continuing to be an active member of our community.”

Featured image: Izzy Posen / YouTube

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