YUSU Presidential Candidate Questionnaire: Ciaran Morrissey

We asked YUSU Presidential Candidates about their opinions on key issues in free expression and speech at the University. Ciaran Morrissey (http://elections.yusu.org/manifesto/11361) replied:

Question 1: Under what circumstances should external speakers, or members of panels, be denied access to campus or the right to speak?

When the speaker in question can be reasonably expected to try and cause physical harm to members of the student body and when the speaker in question has repeatedly refused to share a panel or platform with an individual with differing viewpoints.

There’s no right to a platform, and societies should be able to withdraw platforms for whatever reason they see fit. Nobody has any right to an uncontested platform, or to airtime in student media. However, this does not mean that speakers should be actively prevented from speaking, once invited, by other members of the student body. We should encourage groups to air their grievances about particular speakers, but this should be just a component of the wider campus conversation. 

Question 2: Under what circumstances should the contents, or presentation, of courses be changed in the interests of student welfare?

I don’t think the contents or presentation of courses should be changed in the interest of student welfare unless the course is compulsory and there is medical evidence that studying it in its current form causes tangible detrimental effects to student mental health. In all other cases, I believe it should be up to the lecturers and lecturers alone.

However, I would support efforts to signpost or offer content warnings on module sign-up forms, so that students can make an informed decision as to the modules they will study. This allows students to avoid courses that they know may have particularly triggering elements, while allowing lecturers to maintain full discretion over the modules that they teach. Other than that, student welfare is not enhanced by sheltering or bowdlerisation. University is a place to face and examine the world in its raw, ugly detail, and to take measures to oppose this is to risk compromising academic freedom. 

Question 3: What facilities should be made available at the University to students who feel threatened by some views, opinions or debates to remove themselves from environments in which those are present?

The University should provide functioning doorways and navigable paths to allow students to remove themselves from environments in which views they find disagreeable are being discussed or argued. Again, I think that if a debate has a particularly triggering nature, then this should be highlighted, but once these elements are highlighted, the decision to attend, and any effects on mental welbeing that may result from this, are the responsibility of the student, not the speaker, nor the society hosting, nor YUSU, nor the University. 

Question 4: When is it appropriate to withdraw a media article, or prevent it from being published, in the interests of student welfare?

It is appropriate to withdraw or prevent the publication of articles if they are libellous, if they directly attempt to smear one or more members of the student body, or if the article itself can be considered a personal attack. However, it is important to note that publication of an article does not imply endorsement from the University, YUSU, or any of the media societies, and so it may be important to more directly signpost this, to conclusively shift responsibility to the writer of the article. I’m not convinced that YUSU’s media guidelines need to be any stricter than the law on this matter. I would add that if a student has written an article that can be reasonably assumed to result in a large backlash against them, they should be warned of this possibility, but they should be allowed to publish regardless.

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