Press Release: Oxford Students for Life Disappointed by the Passing of the Liberation Vision Motion by the SU

by Oxford Students for Life

Oxford Students for Life are deeply disappointed by the passing of a controversial new motion at the SU council meeting on Wednesday evening.

The SU were implementing their ‘Liberation Vision’, which sets out their views regarding certain social and political issues.  The controversy mainly arose from the small print of the document, which suggested that societies, groups and individuals would have to adhere to the SU’s monolithic outline if they wished to work with them. Notably, the first point in the External Organisations section stated: “We will endeavour to only work with external organisations who agree to adhere to our Equality and Diversity code of practice”.  The last sentence of Appendix 2 of the liberation vision went on to say: “Oxford SU’s beliefs, priorities and resolutions for working to improve Equality and Diversity at the University of Oxford are outlined in its Liberation Vision. We expect all who work with Oxford SU to adhere to these values and reserve the right to refuse to work with those who do not.”

OSFL observes that such a motion is inherently difficult to revoke, since anyone who disagrees with it will be deemed as not adhering to the Liberation Vision values and hence no longer be in a position to effectuate change. This is highly alarming, and appears to blatantly ignore the report on freedom of speech in universities released by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in March of this year, which emphasised the dangers of “no platforming” and “safe space” policies to shut down free speech 1.

Before the motion was proposed, we were told that the next motion may be controversial and were asked to respect speakers, suggesting that the SU had predicted a certain level of opposition and was intent on rushing through the passing of the motion to prevent difficult points or questions being raised.

Members of OSFL and a number of others attending the meeting were concerned by what sort of things might count as ‘working with’ the SU, but we received little clarification on this matter.  When asked to amend the document to ensure it was clear that student societies could still engage with the SU without subscribing to its Liberation Vision, it was voted down.

Despite previous verbal assurances that the right to a fresher’s stall at the fair would still be available to societies who did not fully subscribe to the Liberation Vision, actual amendments to put this in writing in the motion were rejected.  This is particularly concerning for OSFL, as previous attempts have been made by the SU to try to censor the Freshers Fair and ban OSFL from appearing.  In 2014 the Student’s Union attempted to pass the following resolve: ‘Never to platform any group or organisation which provides directional advice around abortion or explicitly stands against women’s right to choose.’2On Wednesday evening, requests for clarification to protect the freedom of students and university societies were made repeatedly, but after rather rushed debate each one was refused by voters.  OSFL is now concerned about how the document may be used in the future to potentially discriminate against students or groups with beliefs outside of SU’s political and social agenda. Debate was further limited by a declaration that there would be no more amendments even though it seemed there were people in the room who still had questions and points they wanted to raise.

Ruth Bushell, president of OSFL, reports: ‘the SU essentially passed an incoherent motion which left many in the room confused and unclear about how this new Liberation Vision will affect the rights and freedom of students and societies at Oxford University.’

1) The Joint Committee on Human Rights’ report on freedom of speech in universities: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201719/jtselect/jtrights/589/589.pdf?utm_source=Oxford+Students+for+Life&utm_campaign=a1830afa68-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_24fd2e7b98-a1830afa68-288197693 [Accessed on 28/04/2018]

2) Written evidence contributing to the report on Freedom of Speech in Universities: http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Human%20Rights%20Joint%20Committee/Freedom%20of%20Speech%20in%20Universities/written/75566.html?utm_source=Oxford+Students+for+Life&utm_campaign=a1830afa68-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_24fd2e7b98-a1830afa68-288197693 [Accessed on 28/04/2018]

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