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Free Speech On Campus - Glasgow University Rector Nominations

20/03/2017 14:05
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Voting starts on Tuesday for the new University of Glasgow Rector. News of this has reached far and wide, even making it into mainstream, national newspapers and magazines. The controversy comes from the nomination of Milo Yiannopoulos, and to a lesser extent the nomination of Professor Jordan Peterson. Following nominations, certain groups at the university threatened protests and a boycott of the vote; and even a certain unnamed academic at the university spoke to a paper expressing his worry that the vote might lead to violent action, similar to that seen at Berkeley in California proceeding a talk by Yiannopoulos.

As a student at Glasgow, the most disconcerting aspect of this whole fiasco is the whiff of anti free speech lingering around the campus. I am no supporter of Yiannopoulos nor of his views, I think his antagonistic behaviour is disgraceful and ultimately somewhat depressing. Nevertheless, he is allowed to be nominated and the people who put him forward should not be persecuted for doing so. Supposedly more than 9 in 10 universities restrict free speech on campus in the UK by some means or another, and I think these rectoral nominations only serve to support the statistic.

The problem is that if there was little to no outrage with Yiannopoulos' nomination, or at least simply reasoned debate about the nomination, he would not be polling anywhere near as high as he is (when I last saw, he was 32 points ahead), and it would also not have made into national news. The university has become a microcosm for the western world in recent times. A provocative individual running for a senior office, and due to their provocative nature a loud segment of the community/country becomes vocal, denouncing anyone who could even think of voting for this person. The wider population then becomes frustrated with the pious few and votes for the candidate, almost solely in hope of upsetting the vocal groups, which in turn leaves us with an egotistical, far right leader.

Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and NSA whistleblower is the sitting rector who is to be replaced in this coming week. The candidates, aside from Yiannopoulos and Peterson range from Brace Belden who is currently fighting ISIS alongside Kurdish freedom fighters, Sir Vince Cable (who was supposedly charging £10 per student to come and speak to him at a pub in the centre of Glasgow - a story for another day perhaps), and Aamer Anwar, a lawyer and human rights activist (who was sacked by former Scottish Socialist leader, Tommy Sheridan for refusing to stop writing a column for The Sun).

I have found the most disheartening part of this campaign to have been the fallout from the nomination of Yiannopoulos and Peterson, not the nominations themselves. It has taken away from proper debate, giving other candidates an easy ride. It has isolated and persecuted students with views different from what appears to be the general opinion of the university campus. This is not to say that I cannot understand why people are so upset at the prospect of such a controversial character becoming rector, but their outrage has only spurred on the candidate, and to boycott the vote is plain misguided. The best thing that can be done is to beat him by the vote, to rally up the biggest voter turnout and put your full force behind another candidate.

We have recently seen the downside to democracy on campus, and even to a far larger extent around the world, this being that other people may also have the capability to put into power someone we find morally reprehensible. That is just something that has to be accepted, other people are entitled to have other opinions, and they're not even necessarily wrong. Rather than simply shouting about it and slandering the opponent, campaign against the view/nomination, debate against it, and most importantly vote against it. That's the only way to prove that the university as a whole doesn't want a hostile, flippant provocateur at the helm.

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