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Dec 31 2013

In light of the controversial nature of these images

Catching up on a slight backlog which I will blame on…let’s see…the paucity of daylight hours at this time of year. Yeah, that’s it.

Cast your mind back to December 19, when LSE apologized to Chris and Abhishek. Chris and Abhishek issued a statement in response.

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society welcomes the half-apology from the LSE for the misconduct of LSE and LSE Students’ Union staff during the Freshers’ Fair of 3 and 4 October, 2013.

Professor Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE, issued the apology today in response to our Appeal under the LSE’s Free Speech Code, adding that “the wearing of the t-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies”, and that School staff and Students’ Union Officers had “unfortunately misjudged the situation”.

Even as we welcome Professor Calhoun’s apology, we are disappointed that it took the threat of legal action to elicit an acknowledgement of our grievances, and that no apology has been forthcoming from the LSESU, whose grave misconduct began this chain of harassment. We also believe that several other lingering concerns must be put on record.

We are disappointed by Professor Calhoun’s admission that there was no “audit trail of the number and substance of complaints received”. We believe that such flippancy does not behove the LSE’s commitment to freedom of expression, and hope that the LSE will reform its procedures to better reflect this commitment. In light of the LSE’s inability to produce any evidence of complaints, we continue to believe that it is possible that there were, in fact, none, and to suspect that our real crime was to offend the politics of the officials concerned, not the sensibilities of our fellow students.

We are also disappointed that Professor Calhoun has failed to apologise for, or even acknowledge, our harassment at the hands of LSE Security and LSESU officers. We disagree with Professor Calhoun’s contention that they acted ‘in good faith’ in dealing with a ‘difficult situation’, and aver that the decisions in question were uncomplicated and taken unhurriedly, over two days. We would like to know of the punitive action taken against the LSE and LSESU staff concerned, particularly against the named senior officials of the School administration, who are guilty of more than an ordinary miscalculation.

We are also dismayed by an aside in Professor Calhoun’s decision, in which he claims he doubts that the behaviour of the LSESU officers was “a complete shock to you, particularly in light of the controversial nature of these images”. We reject this attempt to excuse the behaviour of the LSESU officers by apportioning blame to us.

We insist that the t-shirts were entirely innocuous, and that we did not wear them with the intention of causing offence, but we also maintain that genuine freedom of expression in a civilised society must protect the provocative, the offensive and the blasphemous.

That is indeed a very dubious thing to say. No, let me put that more precisely – it’s a bizarrely unprincipled thing to say. There is after all a principle involved: the principle is that, barring a really compelling reason, the default situation at a university gathering should be that expression is free. Saying “well these images are controversial so obviously you knew the the LSESU officers would shut you down for showing them” is the opposite of that. It’s not usually the default view of universities that controversial material is and should be subject to suppression by the Student Union.

Looking forward to a better year for LSESU ASH as the days grow longer again.

1 comment

  1. 1
    surreptitious57

    It is absolutely ridiculous that this was allowed to happen. And here in the U K where freedom of self expression is a basic right. And even more so on the grounds of a university – a place that is supposed to actively nurture and encourage free thinking. And I am not just saying this because I happen to be an atheist either. For I would equally defend the right of others to say things that might be offensive to me. Though I tend to have a thick skin so not much – if anything – affects me. But a sad indictment on our so called free society this episode has demonstrated. Hopefully it will not happen again but I will not be the least bit surprised if it does unfortunately. Human rights trump political correctness every single time. Not the other way round. In point of fact the two should be mutually compatible. The fact that they are not is what makes p c sometimes unnecessary even though in principle it is a fine thing

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