Kingston VC’s comments on Prevent ignore the evidence

Professor Julius Weinberg, vice chancellor of Kingston University, has said university heads are “under a lot of pressure” not to criticise the government’s counter-radicalisation measures, collectively known as the Prevent strategy.

Speaking at the University and College Union (UCU) congress in Liverpool last week, Mr Weinberg expressed his concerns Prevent might inhibit free speech and labelled the strategy “counterproductive”.

There is no doubt some university heads have legitimate concerns about Prevent. Far from being suppressed however, many have come out publically and criticised the strategy.

At the beginning of the year, the University of Oxford’s newly appointed vice chancellor,

Professor Louise Richardson, told the Telegraph:

“I am concerned that whole groups of students may see themselves as being suspect. The Prevent legislation is not explicitly anti-Islamist but it’s widely perceived to be directed against extreme Islamists and I worry that Islamic students would feel that they are suspect.”

Similar concerns have also been echoed by other university heads including SOAS’s Director Baroness Amos.

Professor Weinberg’s comments appeared in Times Higher Education, in which he also expressed his disappointment that Student Rights’ work, which he labelled “unchecked”, appeared to have been used in a Downing Street press release.

The material in question, taken from our Preventing Prevent report, identified Kingston University as one of the institutions which hosted the most events featuring extreme or intolerant speakers between 2012 and 2014.

Events logged include one featuring Uthman Lateef, a speaker with a history of homophobic remarks, in October 2012 and an event with Haitham Al-Haddad a few months before, despite Haddad’s long history of extreme statements.

It is also included one event uncovered by Student Rights featuring a virulently sectarian speaker, Dr Khalid Fikry, which appeared to have taken place without the knowledge of the university.

The situation at Kingston University has improved since, with Student Rights logging fewer unchallenged events taking place on campus than previous years.

In part, this is due to Mr Weinberg himself, who debated CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg earlier this year at an event on Prevent.

This attempt to provide balance was refreshing and one which we welcomed.

University heads are free to criticise Prevent and over the past few months we have seen a number come forward to do so.

Scrutiny of policy should be welcomed, but rewriting history to downplay the prevalence of extreme speakers on campus is counterproductive and risks fuelling the very grievance narrative extremists rely on.

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