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Written by Student Rights on 8 April 2016 at 12pm

Right2Debate motion passed at Exeter

Yesterday, the University of Exeter’s Student Union (SU) adopted ‘Right2Debate’, a policy designed to protect free speech while ensuring extreme and intolerant views are challenged.

Rather than banning speakers, the policy will require event organisers to balance platforms when speakers who violate the SU’s safe space policies, are invited onto campus.

It also requires these speakers to be subjected to robust Q&A by guaranteeing those who wish to challenge them an opportunity to ask questions.

Most importantly, this will be done in a transparent manner to ensure those that make decisions about speakers can be held to account.

Haydar Zaki, Right2Debate Chief Editor, welcomed this news, saying:

It is the culmination of all our work to see Exeter adopt this policy and we are proud that its students are the first to bring #Right2Debate to their campus.”

He went on to thank the policy’s supporters at the university, including Sarah Schneider, who led the campaign in Exeter.

Schneider said of the policy:

#Right2Debate at the University of Exeter is so important because it respects our right to free speech and the rights of marginalised students - without infringing on our laws.

It gives controversial speakers the opportunity to have their opinions heard and sufficiently challenged.

Student Rights supports the Right2Debate campaign and welcomes this news.

We have long argued that the best way to beat bad ideas is to debate them and expose their inconsistencies. However, this cannot happen without rules being put in place.

While some may argue that campuses should be a free for all and that policies like Right2Debate are restrictive, we believe these sorts of initiatives will promote freedom of speech, not hinder it.

Student Rights has visited the University of Exeter twice this academic year, once in January to take part in a Debating Society event, and last month to attend an anti-Prevent event, organised as part of the NUS ‘Students Not Suspects’ tour.

At the Debating Society event, the presence of an independent moderator and a balanced platform created a lively discussion and gave plenty of time for all audience members to ask questions.

In contrast, there was no debate at the ‘Students Not Suspects’ event, resulting in misinformation spread about Prevent going unchallenged.

Worst of all, with a chair who was also involved in opposing Prevent, some students likely to have been critical of the campaign appear to have been deliberately not called upon during the Q&A.

This was particularly problematic as CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg, an individual with well-documented past links to violent extremism, was on the panel.

Hopefully, with the Right2Debate policy in place, if a speaker like Begg is invited to the University of Exeter in future, then their views will be sufficiently challenged.

Our recent briefing on the invitation of extreme speakers onto campus found that all too often this is not the case.

The University of Exeter SU’s adoption of Right2Debate is an important step in the right direction if this situation is to change, and we hope the policy will be implemented by more student unions across the country.