Richard Cunningham: Counter-Terror measures for Universities are unworkable and open to misuse
I am pleased that our Home Secretary, Theresa May, has said she will take another look at section 66 of the Prevent Duty Guidelines for Universities, which stipulate how Universities are to comply with anti-radicalisation measures.
In their current form, I believe these guidelines to be both unworkable and open to misuse.
Paragraph 66 requires that all external speakers coming onto a university campus will be screened during a 14 day (minimum) notice period in which advance outlines of topics and PowerPoint presentations will be subjected to university censure. The 200 plus Christian Unions (CUs) which together form the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) typically invite outside speakers to their regular lunchtime and evening meetings. Speakers are required to sign a ‘Mere-Christianity’ statement of faith as part of their commitment not to stray into sectarian or partisan positions but to hold to the basic orthodox tenets of mainstream, historic Christianity. A tiny minority of speakers already feel this requirement represents a lack of trust on the part of the CU and suggest they would prefer not to sign anything. A much larger group of speakers enthusiastically accept the invitation, but lose or forget to post the SAE containing their signed commitment. The CU secretary (if they notice this omission) will send a reminder note, but this is obviously outside their control and necessarily depends entirely on the outside speaker. How much more unrealistic it will be to expect CUs to extract outlines of talks, presentations and so on from busy Christian ministers two weeks ahead of an event.
Even if the CU Secretary (a full-time student doing this in a volunteer capacity) were organised enough to chase after these details, a positive result still remains entirely outside his or her control.
What would constitute an adequate outline of a talk anyway?
‘About God and about 25 minutes,’ is a pretty succinct summary of most CU talks. Who in the university administration has the time or the interest to read an outline of (say) Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s Gospel? And what possible justification could there be for requiring such an outline when their efforts should surely be focussed on preventing students from being radicalised by Islamist extremists?
My suspicion is that the only people who might possibly have an interest in screening and censoring the outline of a visiting Christian speaker to the CU, would be those who want to, for reasons of malice or mischief, take issue with those elements of Christianity they happen to dislike or disagree with.
The Prevent guidelines as they stand are unwieldy and unworkable, and therefore will divert already limited university resources away from protecting vulnerable students from being radicalised.
The proposed guidelines should be replaced by a system for assessing and rating risks associated with planned events on campus. This must be an evidence-based system that will need to justify any requirement for talk outlines etc. on the grounds of real and actual risk to students.