Julius Weinberg, the vice chancellor of Kingston University, has said he will not stop giving a platform to speakers like Moazzam Begg despite pressure by the government to do so.
In an article for the Guardian Weinberg said he’d shared a platform with Begg recently because he was being true to his obligations as a university vice-chancellor.
He added that there was no evidence that students were being radicalised at universities.
He wrote: “The government is worried that some ideas and some individuals radicalise people to such a degree that they become terrorists. They also seem convinced that this process is happening at our universities, and as I say, Kingston University has been identified as a particular offender. Yet I believe that I am acting in a way that reduces, rather than increases, the threat to the public.
“I take the risks and the accusations extremely seriously but, as an academic, I also look closely at the evidence. It could hardly be weaker. There is no respectable evidence that radicalisation is happening at British universities today. Some extremists may be graduates, but no one has shown cause and effect or anything like it.
“As for the prime minister’s complaint about Kingston University, not one of the four campus meetings that he identified as dangerous involved hate speech or anything of the kind.”
Last September the government “named and shamed” universities who’ve hosted so-called extremist speakers.
In a statement on its website the government said that Queen Mary, King’s College, SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) and Kingston – all universities in London – were the worst offenders.
The statement came as universities and colleges in the UK became legally required to put in place policies to stop “extremists” radicalising students on campuses, to tackle gender segregation at events and to support students at risk of radicalisation, as part of the government’s plans to counter extremism.
In his Guardian article Weinberg added that radical ideas should not be driven underground so that they are never challenged or questioned.
“I want my students to be faced with a variety of opinions, to learn that diversity can exist in an environment of courtesy and an appetite for learning. I believe, to paraphrase the Victorian theologian John Henry Newman, that universities are where the clash of ideas brings forth truth.
“There are limits, of course, some of them set by the law – we can not allow incitement to hatred or violence and we are very careful about such things. But it would be wrong to bar a speaker because the government of the day does not like their views.”