Sussex University leaders met with the government at Parliament to discuss free speech

The discussion will be one of many inquiring the scope of free speech at universities


SU President Frida Gustafsson and Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell met with academic leaders at Parliament to discuss freedom of speech at universities.

Launched by the Joint Committee of Human Rights as part of the Freedom of Speech in Universities inquiry, yesterday's discussion lead by academics from Susssex, Edinburgh and SOAS centred around the scope of free speech at universities. They spoke about whether free speech is being prohibited on campus, and if there is a problem, how this can be amended.

Present at the meeting was Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Vice-Chancellor and Principal to the University of Edinburgh, President of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association Patrick Kilduff, and Baroness Valerie Amos CH, who is the Director of SOAS University of London, who have all launched an inquiry as to the extent of free speech within Sussex and other universities.

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Harriet Harman and Frida Gustafsson

Sussex's SU President and VC defend the encouragement of free speech at the university, with Tickell arguing: "We do everything we can to promote vigorous discussion and vigorous debate."

Tickell also added: "We have to think carefully about that [the content of speeches from external speakers]. It is about ensuring that people who are vulnerable have proper measures put in place. Students' Unions aren’t here to limit speakers."

Sussex made national headlines recently after the Liberate the Debate Society cancelled their own event, where UKIP MEP, Bill Etheridge, was to give a talk on free speech and libertarianism. Etheridge had previously said "Hitler achieved a great deal".

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Despite the cancellation of the event, Frida said: “Not agreeing with them [the speaker] doesn’t mean they shouldn’t speak.”

The event was cancelled under claims the SU was "prohibiting" the event, as opposed to enforcing "outlined regulatory steps that would go into making the event as successful," according to Lucy Williams, the SU Activities officer who is also a member of Liberate the Debate.

The discussion yesterday will be one many universities will be addressing, whether free speech in academic institutions is an issue, or a matter of providing a safe environment to express opinions and engage in debate.