An event that would have been delivered by the UK Independence Party’s local parliamentary candidate was postponed at the last minute earlier today, after the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) ruled that the procedure for booking external speakers had not been followed.
The event, organised by the PSI Society, was initially advertised only to PSI Society members for security reasons but was made public knowledge yesterday afternoon (26th November). It sparked a 1,000-signature petition calling for it to be cancelled and reorganised at a “neutral location” away from campus. Protests were also planned for outside the event.
The petition, organised by Timea Süli, a PSI postgraduate student, argued that: “Ukip is a nationalistic, racist, and anti-migrant party that is to many people intimidating, offensive, and degrading. The university has a responsibility to protect its students from an environment of hate and discrimination”. However, the petition provoked controversy, with some students arguing that cancelling the event would be a breach of free speech. A counter-petition calling for the event to go ahead as planned has been set up today, and has so far attracted 59 signatures.
Earlier today, the full-time officers of the UUEAS met and decided that the proper procedures had not been followed when booking the external speaker. The decision has been challenged and will be taken to the full Trustee Board at a later date, meaning that the event may still take place at some point in the future.
In a statement posted to the union’s Facebook page, a UUEAS spokesperson said: “The union has reviewed the arrangements in relation to tonight’s PSI society event with speakers from Ukip attending. A procedure governing the approval and handling of events with external speakers was approved by the Trustee Board last year. In this case an internal investigation has revealed that the Union has not followed the procedure as it should have, and as such the event cannot go ahead at this moment in time. We will review internal compliance with our procedures to ensure that all staff, officers and clubs/socs are fully aware of these procedures in the future.
“We will now meet with the PSI society to discuss the postponement of this event and whether we will be able to allow the event to go ahead in the future. In doing so we will be required to consider the potential for any decision to limit freedom of speech as per the university’s code of practice in pursuance of the 1986 Education Act; the potential for the event going ahead to cause the union to be in breach of its equal opportunities policy; the potential for the event going ahead to cause the union to fail in its wider legal duties; the potential for the event going ahead to cause reputational risk to the Union; the potential for the speaker’s presence on campus to cause fear or alarm to members of the student body; and the potential for the speakers presence on campus to give rise to breach of peace. Consultation with interested parties will be carried out.
“Following this consultation Management Committee will then decide whether the event can go ahead and if so in what form, in accordance with our procedures”.
The decision led to anger from Haylie Pallister, the president of PSI Society, who said: “It is with deep regret that I have to inform everyone that tonight’s event has been cancelled. The union have pulled out last minute due to the controversy surrounding the event. However this does not mean the event will not be allowed to happen. The committee are taking this matter to the Board of Trustees in the hope that it will be rescheduled for a later date.
“I completely understand people not supporting Ukip, however the only way to get past this is to challenge them, not silence them. UEA is the perfect platform to do this, everyone knows they are hated by the majority of students and it would be an immensely tough crowd. By moving the event to the city it is only going to promote their cause further and we would lose security which would reduce people’s safety.
“The petition that was signed against the event fundamentally missed the point, we are not organising this event because we agree with Ukip! You cannot label a whole party racist, homophobic etc on the premise of what the media tells you. As politics students I assumed people would know enough not to label, but rather critically challenge them.
“Ukip are not going to go away, they are a major party and the only way to stop them is to let them be heard and challenge them.
“As the president of this society who has worked extremely hard for this since September I am thoroughly disappointed with the union’s decision but I will fight to push this through and provide an opportunity for Ukip to be heard just as I will for every other party”.
Timea Süli, organised the petition against the event. She told Concrete: “I created this petition with the intention of regarding the feelings of individuals who are intimidated by the policies of Ukip, and want to voice their often-ignored opinions… To call this an assault on freedom of speech is an error. This is a debate about who has the privilege of freedom of speech, and we often find that it is white, educated, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gender men who dominate our scene of free speech. This is not freedom.
“Today demonstrated how many people want a right to political speech. Today we demonstrated that minority groups will no longer be treated as white noise. Our belief is that the event should take place away from a university campus that we feel is a supportive and tolerant cultural hub to thousands of students.
“We fully support and insist that the PSI society reschedule the event, but to a site away from campus. We want to reform our campus into a place that doesn’t always let the biggest groups speak the loudest. People have shown that student safety on campus is paramount and we must respect the wishes of the people who feel this way. We are grateful that the union and PSI society have taken into consideration the feelings of the student body, and decided to reschedule the event. We wish them all the best”.