Glasgow University faces protests after Milo Yiannopoulos nominated as rector

Student who launched the petition says the far-right provocateur practices 'hate speech' not free speech

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Glasgow University’s decision to nominate Milo Yiannopoulos as a rector has sparked outrage among students.

The far-right provocateur, who is a former Breitbart editor, is one of 12 names put forward by students for the coveted position and has personally accepted an invitation to take part in the election process.

Students have voiced their opposition to Mr Yiannopoulos’ nomination and a petition demanding for him to be removed has garnered 1,800 signatures.

Since Mr Yiannopoulos’ controversial remarks about paedophilia resurfaced in an old podcast last month, he has resigned from his role as a senior editor of far-right site Breitbart News. The “alt-right” figurehead, who rose to fame for his inflammatory, anti-immigrant views, also had a lucrative book deal with a prestigious publisher pulled and his appearance at Conservative Political Action conference dropped.

Holly Hallam, the Glasgow University student who launched the petition, told The Independent students were in the process of organising protests against Mr Yiannopoulos.

Hallam said she had received a great deal of criticism from so-called “free speech warriors” for the campaign but argued a clear distinction needed to be drawn between the right to free speech and hate speech. 

She claimed Mr Yiannopoulos, who was permanently banned from Twitter in July after claims he helped lead the racist and sexist abuse of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, had crossed the line between free speech and hate speech “unapologetically”.

“If you're privileged enough to not experience misogyny, transphobia, Islamophobia, or any of the other kind of hate speech Milo perpetrates, the belief that someone is trying to stifle your 'free speech' can produce quite a negative gut reaction when you live without fear of any actual oppression,” she explained.

Feminist Society and the psychology society are just two of the university groups who are campaigning against the nomination of the controversial columnist who has previously described Islam as a cancer and suggested transgender people are mentally ill.

An academic at the university is reportedly fearful of the prospect of a visit, with one unnamed professor predicting “riots”.

Mr Ameer Ibrahim, the President of Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council, said a hustings would take place for those nominated next Thursday but they had yet to receive confirmation Mr Yiannopoulos would be attending.

Writing on his Facebook page on Sunday, Mr Yiannopoulos claimed one visit to the city would secure him the election, saying: “Currently investigating whether a trip to Glasgow is feasible. One trip from me and I'd be sure to win the election”.

A Facebook page titled “Milo for Rector – University of Glasgow” has garnered just over 3,000 likes. The page, which refers viewers to the Kent-born journalist’s website, says: “Free speech matters, and electing Milo symbolises the end of the intolerant, authoritarian silence-everyone-who-disagrees-with-me attitude of these people. It is dangerous to our University, to our society, and frankly to our lives.” 

Mr Yiannopoulos’ previous stops at universities in the US have often attracted heated protests. Last month, Berkeley University were forced to call off a talk by him after demonstrators threw smoke bombs, started fires and smashed windows.

What’s more, an event featuring Mr Yiannopoulos, who recently used a talk to publicly name and mock a transgender student, was also called off after protests erupted in January.

Students at Glasgow University will vote on whether they want Mr Yiannopoulos, an outspoken Donald Trump supporter, to be their rector on 20 March. Although the role of rector is a largely ceremonial one, the person in the position is supposed to chair the university’s court and be the voice of students among the higher tiers of the university. Candidates require the support of 10 students to get on the ballot paper.

The current rector is exiled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Other candidates nominated this year include human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, former Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable, PissPigGranddad, an American internet celebrity fighting with the People’s Defence Unit in Syria, and Lady Hazel Cosgrove,  the first woman to be appointed a Senator of the College of Justice.

Mr Ibrahim emphasised the fact the university did not support hate speech, saying: “We do not support hate-speech; this includes any that could be extended from a member or prospective member of the University community and would anticipate that candidates will reflect this through an open campaign that is inclusive to all of our students throughout and after this election period.” 

Mr Yiannopoulos did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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