The Independent seems to have a very bizarre understanding of the Universities UK guidance on how to manage guest speakers.
The document comes out in the wake of a number of incidents where freedom of speech has been threatened – in particular an Egyptian speaker at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies was forced to abandon a speech largely because of protests from the Muslim Brotherhood.
In addition, research by Student Rights, a pro-equality group, shows that there were 180 cases of radical preachers speaking at university events in the year up to March 2013. It shows some ways in which freedom of speech can be preserved even if the speaker is controversial – such as segregating different sections into different parts of the room as in the case of an ultra-right religious speaker arousing protests from feminists. (In a recent case, a speaker at University College London insisted the audience be segregated before he agreed to speak).
What? The Independent thinks the issue is that segregation is a tool to preserve free speech from being prevented? But the speaker didn’t demand that protesters be segregated, he demanded that women be segregated. And how would segregating protesters help anyway? Unless you segregated them all the way out of the building and into a different one.
The Student Rights research showed that in a quarter of the 180 cases segregated seating for men and women was promoted. It described the practice as “a widespread trend”.
The document argues this could be acceptable – but organisers would have to be sure they did not breach equality laws by, say, putting the feminists at a disadvantage at the back of the room. “Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either the female or male attendees,” it concludes.
Godalmighty – the author, Richard Garner, really is that confused – he seems to think it was the feminists who were segregated, and that they were segregated as a way to defuse their potential protest. Yeesh. It wasn’t the feminists, it was the women. The segregation wasn’t “feminists here, normal people there” – it was “women here, men there.” Men can be feminists, and women can be not feminists.
Also…really? He thinks that would fly? “New university policy – segregate the feminists, to preserver order and free speech.” Even the deeply addled UK vice-chancellors would probably spot the problem with that idea.