Guest Contributor Serena Lit on a recent petition to de-ratify the KCLCA following the controversial election of Charles Amos as president and his subsequent removal from office.
Last week, an anonymous person or group created a petition calling for the de-ratification of the King’s College London Conservative Association (KCLCA). The petition hasn’t gained much traction online; however, its creation reflects a wider free speech and intolerance problem on university campuses.
University is all about fresh thinking and challenging conventional wisdom. For this to happen, students must be exposed to a plethora of ideas, even ones with which they disagree. We must preserve our vibrant, curious, and intellectually diverse King’s community, and that means allowing Conservative representation on campus. A study undertaken by King’s researchers show Conservative students already feel “unable” to express their views at university. With all the talk of safe spaces, it is a tad ironic there is a now a petition advocating to remove theirs.
“No platforming” policies may have been intended to keep out viewpoints that have no right to be expressed in public debate, but they are now being weaponised to silence anyone with different views to those of the woke masses. The treatment of Amber Rudd by students at Oxford University is just one example of such injustice. Rudd had been invited to speak about her experience as a female MP and Minister for Women and Equalities by a student group, but her appearance was cancelled last minute to placate Windrush protesters.
Even university authorities declared, “the cancellation of this event was not carried out in accordance with university procedures, codes of practice and policies, in particular that of the freedom of speech”. The society has since been de-ratified for violating national free speech guidelines. In February 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published guidance for all institutions and student unions in order to uphold freedom of expression. It was the first time institutional free speech obligations have been clearly defined. One could argue de-ratifying the KCLCA would breach these guidelines.
The government has also made clear they are willing to intervene should universities prove unable to adequately defend free speech on campus. One only needs to look at the worsening situation on American campuses to understand the importance of protecting free speech now. The fact both the EHRC and the government have readily taken unprecedented steps to safeguard freedom of expression shows how bad the problem is. Groups like Turning Point UK are growing in popularity for their commitment to ending the “culture of fear” that has rendered students afraid to express Conservative views. The KCLCA must not become another marginalised right-wing student group.
Given recent goings-on within the society, many will argue its status as a university club should be challenged. From electing a self-confessed anti-feminist as President to accusations of bullying and misconduct by a former leadership candidate, I admit it would be odd not to question what kind of group this actually is. I certainly did. Now that the KCLSU is in receipt of a 114-page dossier outlining alleged misconduct, it is for them to investigate whether or not the KCLCA has broken any rules. If the group’s activities are in violation of either KCL or national guidelines, then they must work with the KCLSU and other university bodies to ensure this does not happen again.
However, the King’s community must equally recognise that this society has existed for years without controversy and that this situation is the unfortunate result of recent mismanagement. The KCLCA should be given the opportunity to change. The election of a new President is well underway, and there are three new faces standing. While nothing is known about Maximos Petridis, both Anastasia Katona and Laszlo Ori have released campaign videos outlining their key pledges. Assuming one of the latter two is elected, it is safe to say either would lead the society in a very different direction to the previous incumbent.
It is only fair they be given the chance to do so before de-ratification can be considered an option.