Written by Student Rights on 24 February 2012 at 11am

Statement from Queen Mary University on Dr Azzam Tamimi event (Update: Student Rights Denied Entry)

UPDATE: Student Rights have since received an email from the Vice President of Communications at Queen Mary University Student Union who has said that our request to attend the event is "not possible to grant as it is not a public meeting and is open only to Queen Mary students and staff and University of London students". 

Since our post on Wednesday about the Queen Mary University Palestine Solidarity Society event featuring Dr Azzam Tamimi we have received a statement from the university authorities on the subject.

In this they state:

The Palestine Solidarity Society, one of more than a hundred societies and student groups at Queen Mary’s Students’ Union, has invited a number of individuals, including Dr Azzam Tamimi, to speak about ‘Solutions to Palestine’ at an event on 28 February 2012.

Freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas and beliefs are at the heart of Queen Mary’s ethos and we have a very clear policy and mechanisms to support this. Groups such as those from the Students' Union who wish to invite external speakers to events on campus are required to submit an application form to the College providing details of the event.

Based upon this information, the College may decide to make further enquiries into the background of an invited speaker, to ensure they have not previously engaged in illegal activity. This may, on occasion, include seeking advice from the police.

Where no previous record of illegal activity is identified, and the College believes it is possible to ensure that its campus remains a place of safety for its students, staff and visitors, an event will proceed with conditions attached to it that the College believes are appropriate”.

They have also included a statement from the Student Union, which like our original post, draws attention to the unbalanced nature of the panel:

Dominic Bell, Queen Mary Students’ Union Vice President Student Activities comments: “When we authorised this event we highlighted the lack of balance on the panel of speakers. However, the Students’ Union does not have a ‘no platform’ policy and both the Principal and the Union believe in freedom of speech. We don’t have the right to block the event unless it’s for health and safety reasons. The event is not advertised as a debate between the panel but the students will have the opportunity to question the speakers.

The statement then continues, saying that:

The Palestine Solidarity Society has been open and honest about who is speaking, who is chairing the event, and how the event is promoted. We have so far not received any complaints from students.”

Queen Mary’s Principal, Professor Simon Gaskell, said: “In making these arrangements we neither endorse nor deny the views expressed; rather we are allowing freedom of expression within the law.

“Furthermore, we are implicitly attributing to our university community the intelligence and powers of discrimination to judge for themselves the merits or otherwise of opinions and beliefs presented to them.

It is encouraging that the Student Union recognises the issue that platforms as biased as this raise and has mentioned this to the Palestine Solidarity Society. We support the right of these students to invite these speakers but would urge them to provide greater balance. We would also hope that students are discriminating enough to see when an argument is as one-sided as it is in this case. However, inviting platforms this partisan does not exactly provide students with an opportunity to have their views challenged and is likely to just polarise opinion further.