Months after David Cameron named and shamed four London universities for allowing extremists to address students on campus, one of the universities has hit back at the prime minister. Julius Weinberg, vice-chancellor of Kingston University in south west london, said that he would not stop offering a platform to "hate speakers".
Weinberg's comments come as his university invited Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, to speak to students. Writing for the Guardian, Weinberg said that he did not stop Begg's visit and, instead, shared a platform with him.
"The government is worried that some ideas and some individuals radicalise people to such a degree that they become terrorists," said the Kingston University vice-chancellor. "They also seem convinced that this process is happening at our universities, and Kingston University has been identified as a particular offender. Yet I believe that I am acting in a way that reduces, rather than increases, the threat to the public."
Weinberg said that if he had "good reason" to think that one student poses a risk to others, he would liaise with the appropriate authorities or security services to handle the situation. However, he also noted that universities should continue to respect "privacy and confidentiality".
In September 2015, David Cameron mentioned the London universities at a meeting of the government's Extremism Taskforce. He announced that colleges would be forced to adopt policies that would stop hate preachers from radicalising students on campus and said that public institutions had a role to play in "rooting out and challenging extremism".
The Prime minister said at the time: "It is not about oppressing free speech of stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish."
Speaking about Cameron's complaint about Kingston University, Weinberg denied that any of the four meetings mentioned by the prime minister contained elements of danger or hate speech. He also questioned the decision to ban hate speakers, asking whether the best way to counter radicalisation was to "drive them underground so that they are never challenged".
Weinberg acknowledged that someone in the Home Office would "log that a 'hate speaker' has appeared at Kingston University again", but insisted that the university was just doing its job. He said the event with Begg had been a success and had allowed students to share and challenge ideas.
He wrote: "I think it highly unlikely that anyone was radicalised. Instead, students learned that those with different opinions to them are thoughtful and willing to listen. This is surely a good way to combat violent extremism."