Universities UK Says Segregation Of British Students Is Allowed
DO you want to speak in higher education? Universities UK, an organisation seeking to create “an autonomous university sector in the United Kingdom that, through excellence in teaching, research, and knowledge exploitation, raises aspirations, has an international reputation for innovation, and contributes to the wider economy and society. Our mission is to be the definitive voice for universities in the UK. We provide high quality leadership and support to our members, to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector.”
Universities UK has produced a guide for “external speakers in higher education institutions“.
Free speech is fundamental to the role of universities. As a matter of law, universities in England and Wales have a statutory duty to secure freedom of speech, reﬂecting their mission as places where new ideas can be advanced and where open and free debate can and must take place. However…
However, free speech is not an unqualiﬁed privilege.
No. It’s a basic human right. And one hard won.
One area that we felt deserved further attention was in relation to external speakers. The open and uncensored debate that is so rightly treasured by universities often involves contributions from external speakers. Invitations to external speakers play a central role in university life, not least in terms of allowing students to be exposed to a range of different beliefs, to challenge other people’s views and to develop their own opinions. Although most speakers are uncontroversial, some will express contentious, even inﬂammatory or offensive, views. In some cases, their presence on campus may be divisive. Universities have to balance their obligation to secure free speech with their duties to ensure that the law is observed, which includes promoting good campus relations and maintaining the safety and security of staff, students and visitors. In practice, achieving this balance is not always easy.
And after much saluting about free speech and much but-butting, we get to Case Study 2: “Segregation“.
A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith in the modern world. The event is part of four different speeches taking place over the course of a month exploring different approaches to religion. The initial speaker request has been approved but the speaker has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be segregated according to gender. The event organiser has followed agreed processes and raised the issue with university management. The event has been widely advertised and interest levels are high.
Tell him to get knotted (and you just know it’s a man)? It’s not a religious building. It’s a school of learning in the UK. Or maybe the audience what they think, putting it a vote? No. Neither of those options is to be considered:
The segregation request is not yet in the public domain but the students’ union has an active feminist society which is likely to protest against the segregation request. Other societies are likely to express similar concerns. The event is also due to take place a few days after a number of campus-based activities to coincide with International Women’s Day
On the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that discrimination claims will be made on other grounds…
And on and on and on it goes.
Back in March, the Guardian reported:
A London university has banned an Islamic organisation from taking part in events on its campus after the group hosted a debate with seating segregated by gender.
University College London took the action against the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) after concluding that it had attempted to enforce segregation at the debate on 9 March.
“Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?” featured Prof Lawrence Krauss, an eminent atheist, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer on Islam. When Krauss saw people being moved from their seats, he said he would not speak at an event that was segregated and walked out to cheers and boos from the audience. An organiser pursued him and said segregation would be abandoned.
Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully… If the speaker is unwilling to speak unless the event is fully segregated, it may be necessary to further explore the basis for his position before deciding whether a partially segregated event is a possibility.”
Balls. If they want to speak at a British University, they should adhere to the laws of the land and what the students want. No segregation. Simple.