Ms Nicola Dandridge
Office for Students
Lime Kiln Close
Dear Ms Dandridge,
Re. Complaint about Life prevented from exhibiting at University Freshers Fairs
I write to express concern about discriminatory behaviour and freedom of expression violations against our charity by a number of university student unions which have rejected our application to have a stall at their freshers fair this year.
Life is a caring prolife charity which has offered help and support to thousands of women in crisis pregnancies for over four decades. Every year we help women who call our National Helpline, families who need practical support and pregnant women and new mothers who need housing. The charity runs 23 houses for women who are pregnant and homeless.
Our main intention behind having a stall at freshers fairs is to make students aware that we are there to support them if they are affected by an unplanned pregnancy and need help. Our stall also showcases pregnancy with positive images and foetal models of the baby at various gestational stages. This is meant to provide information and education about pregnancy. We do not show any shocking images.
In fact when our charity attended the freshers fair at the University of Chester last year, the midwifery students were delighted with our stall and many positive discussions took place.
Unfortunately, this year, three university student unions have rejected our application to exhibit at their freshers fair. A summary of their position is outlined below. The full email correspondences with them accompany this letter.
The University of Warwick Students Union
The Union has declared that it is within its prerogative to decide who is allowed to exhibit on the premises and Life is not being allowed to exhibit because the union’s members have voted to adopt a pro-choice stance. It also made an unsubstantiated and libellous claim that we are a risk to the safety of its members.
The University of Manchester Students Union
The Union has said it did not think the fair is the correct platform for Life. It has ignored our request to explain why the fair isn’t the correct platform for Life.
The Guild of Students -University of Liverpool
The Guild has said that while there are still places at the fair, it will not be accepting a booking from Life. It said “The Guild is committed to providing confidential, non-judgemental, impartial advice and signposting in relation to sexual health and pregnancy. This commitment extends to ensuring that organisations we take advertising from are able to adhere to these principles. We are aware that Life do not refer on to, or provide information about, agencies that provide abortions. We are therefore not sufficiently confident that service users would have access to impartial advice, that would help them fully explore the range of options available to them. It is on this basis that we are unable to accept a booking from Life.” We have responded that whilst Life is a prolife organisation its caring services are non-directive. We were therefore not infringing their principles of impartiality. We await a response from them.
It is clear that the university student unions mentioned above are discriminating against Life and denying us a platform because they do not agree with our prolife views. In doing so they are impeding freedom of expression of views which they do not agree with but which other students may want to hear. They are also preventing us from advertising practical support to university students who may need our help either immediately or in future.
We are aware that the student unions are not run by the university but violations of free speech which takes place on the campus of the university should be a cause for concern for all. In fact, in March this year the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights looking at free speech at universities observed that there were on some campuses “intolerant attitudes, often incorrectly using the banner of “no platforming” and “safe-space” policies;”. The committee found that the discussion of unpopular and controversial ideas was being stifled on campuses across the country. In its report it said that rather than intellectually challenge provocative speakers, debates have simply been shut down or shouted over. The report highlighted a number of free speech violations against the prolife movement.
Last month we welcomed the following statement from the Office for Students Chair Sir Michael Barber “Those universities and colleges registering with us are required to demonstrate how they uphold freedom of speech. As I have said before, it is not our job to tell universities precisely how to do this. We respect institutional autonomy and are pleased that HEPI has grasped the initiative in publishing this report. We are also keen to encourage further work by the sector in this area. Individual institutions need to develop policies which reflect their own community, values and culture; there will be no single approach that works for all. The Office for Students will work to ensure all registered providers have robust and effective management and governance arrangements in place to protect and promote freedom of speech. Where we have concerns, we will not hesitate to intervene to uphold this fundamental principle.”
I hope you will agree that the discrimination against our charity and the stifling of its right to freedom of expression on the campuses of three universities is wholly unacceptable. This letter invites the Office for Students to intervene, as promised by Sir Michael Barber, and to take action to uphold freedom of speech at the three universities named above. I am hopeful that your office will ensure that we are allowed to exhibit at the three university freshers fairs named above and that we are given a guarantee from the universities that our presence on campus will not be impeded in future.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Director of Education