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Oxford SU reverses Freshers’ Fair ban on Union after being “reminded” of free speech policy by University

The Oxford Student Union (SU) trustees have reversed the SU’s decision to ban the Oxford Union (OU) from freshers fair, allegedly after being “reminded” of the University’s free speech policy.

The SU previously voted to ban the OU from the freshers’ fair, referencing “long-standing concerns relating to alleged bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and data privacy breaches which affect students”. 

In a recent email to the student body, the SU clarified that the motion that banned the Union from freshers’ fair was “unrelated to Dr Stock’s intended talk [at the Union]” and that it is “deeply unfortunate that the media has chosen to imply a connection” between the two. 

In a letter to The Telegraph, one of Oxford’s pro-vice chancellors, Professor Martin Williams, writes that recent reporting by those concerned about the University’s approach to free speech has “unfortunately been ill-informed and therefore… unnecessarily inflammatory and incorrect.”

The letter continues: “The Oxford Union, a debating society independent of the University but whose leaders and members are mostly drawn from our student body, has not been banned from attending the Freshers’ Fair.  Students should be free to decide whether to join a society or club. Whilst we understand there are concerns held by the Student Union about the Oxford Union, the University is actively encouraging the two organisations to talk through the issues.

“Our Freedom of Speech policy makes clear that the University seeks to prepare students to encounter and confront difficult views, including views that they find unsettling, extreme or even offensive.  As a result, we do not allow the no-platforming of any lawful speech whilst also supporting the right of students, staff and societies to protest and challenge speakers at events, as long as they do so within the law and our policies.

“The University and its colleges host hundreds of events each term and we will continue to invite a wide range of speakers. So, despite what some may have been led to believe, freedom of speech and expression is alive and well at Oxford.”

The University’s free speech policy, available online, states: “Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful.

“Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive. The University must therefore foster freedom of expression within a framework of robust civility.”

The SU, Union, and University have been approached for comment.

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