Brunel became the latest university this week to diminish the standing of free speech as students turned their backs on rent-a-gob Katie Hopkins and then quit the lecture theatre.
Footage uploaded to the Internet showed the incident, which took place on Monday as Hopkins and other panellists debated the future of the welfare state as part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Ali Milani, the Brunel Student Union president, wrote a blog defending the protests, veiling his desire to stop Hopkins propagating her views variously on grounds of taste, “political credibility” and the value of her intellect.
Despite this high-mindedness, laced throughout Milani’s post is the clear suggestion that what troubles him are Hopkins’ “overtly bigoted views”, which he clearly wants to stifle on political grounds.
Milani claims that:
“It is important to note that the conversation at no point has been about banning Ms Hopkins from speaking on campus, or denying her right to speak.”
But he then goes on to ask, with obvious political bias:
“Is inviting someone who has no intellectual or political credibility providing any valuable intellectual nuance to debates in our society? At a time when we must be discussing how we do more for disabled people, is this a valuable addition to debate? In an age where thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea, attempting to escape persecution, is this a valuable addition to the debate?”
Yet even if we overlook Milani’s clear ulterior motive, the answer, as has clearly escaped him during his time at university, is yes.
Because free speech is not merely about stopping the police arresting people for having opinions unhelpful for the government; it is about a culture that protects unpopular views such as Hopkins’.
For a university, which has a special role in stimulating public discourse, this means entertaining dissenting opinions. Indeed, one could argue the highest mark of intellect is to be able to fully entertain an opinion one disagrees with. Obviously, this means hearing it in the first place.
Perhaps it’s time Mr Milani went back to school…