This Thursday, a University student was removed from a debate in the Students’ Union’s Senate chamber after three warnings that he was violating rules and regulations
Last Thursday, student Ed Bird was forcibly removed from the Student Union’s Senate as representatives discussed the proposed abolition of the Students’ Union’s Safe Space policy.
Thursday’s meeting was the second meeting of the newly-formed Senate. The Senate, according to the Students’ Union’s website, is a body responsible for: “representing students, helping determine the policies of the Students’ Union and holding democratically elected representatives to account.”
It is formed of a range of Student Officers from across the student body, the Students’ Union’s Exec Team, Education Officers from undergraduate and postgraduate departments, members of the Activities Committee, and a panel of “randomly selected” students “representative of the general student population”.
Any student of the University of Manchester is permitted to attend the senate as an audience member but does not have voting rights. Members of the Free Speech and Secular society were in the audience, among others, to watch proceedings.
Videos of Thursday’s event show security leading Ed Bird towards the exit. After three warnings, the chair asked Bird to be removed. He refused to go voluntarily and security was summoned.
The Senate was adjourned for five minutes as the situation was dealt with and the Students’ Union tweeted: “We have taken five minute break while an audience member is removed from the room after receiving three warnings for misconduct.” Bird told security that he would not be going under his own volition but would only go if led out of the room: “I’ll only go if you escort me,” he told them.
Bird is clearly audible in video recordings of his ejection asking the security: “Can you escort me please?” Eyewitnesses say that as soon as Bird left the room, he became amicable towards the staff escorting him and subsequently left of his own volition.
As he was being led away by security, he shouted: “I am being no-platformed,” in reference to the abolition of the Safe Space Policy, about which the Senate was debating prior to his removal.
He had complained throughout the debate, at times shouting during proceedings that the Senate was “not democratic”. Others, such as Leonardo Carrela—the sponsor of the 6th policy proposal to reform the Safe Space Policy, complained during the debate about the length of proceedings and delays, which prevented their motion being discussed despite the frequent interruptions from audience members that arrived with them.
Earlier in the debate, Bird’s first warning came from his shouting during proceedings about the accountability of the senate, which was particularly bellicose during a procedural vote for recorded voting during policy proposals five and six, regarding the abolition of the safe space and changes to it respectively.
Making a clarification point during the debate about the very first policy, shortly following his first warning, Bird was cautioned by the Chair for using clarification points to make debate points, a caution with which Bird belligerently disagreed.
Bird then expended his allotted time and refused to give the microphone back to the Students’ Union staff member that gave it to him. He slapped their hand away as they gestured for him to return the microphone. Subsequently, he declared: “I don’t need the microphone anyway.” This resulted in his second warning. He had previously called the staff member “an idiot” when told he was required to sit in the observer rows at the back.
After the first proposal: “The Student’s Union to lobby the university to provide scholarship for refugees and those fleeing conflict zones,” Bird entered into an argument at the back of the room with members of the Senate, who were sitting on the Activities Committee’s table, which went unnoticed by the Chair.
Bird’s third and final warning, which resulted in his ejection, came during the debate about the abolition of the Safe Space Policy. During this debate, Bird repeatedly interrupted people and eyewitnesses claim he became aggressive.
During his response to a debate point made by a member of the Senate, Bird pointed directly at Jess Lishak, Women’s Officer, who asked him to stop pointing at her. He also criticised her directly during his debate point, which is explicitly forbidden in the Senate’s rules. By directly criticising Lishak, Bird was given his third warning, which ultimately resulted in his ejection.
After his ejection, Bird wrote on his Facebook profile: ‘I was removed from the Students Union [sic] by security this evening during a debate on the Safe space policy because “I violated the Safe Space policy”.’ (Note inverted quotations marks.)
“I believe I am the first person ever to be forcefully removed from a Students Union [sic] debate.” On this status, Activities Officer Joel Smith pointed out that he was not removed for violating Safe Space. Smith said to him, “you were ejected because you repeatedly broke the perfectly reasonable rules of senate that everyone else regardless of their political opinion was respecting.”
The Union’s Safe-Space Policy has been surrounded by controversy since speakers Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos were banned from a debate on whether modern day feminism had a problem with free speech. The debacle surrounding the event received international attention.
A procedural motion to have the abolition of the Safe Space Policy proposal to be passed to a student-wide referendum was rejected by a Senate vote. The motion to abolish the Safe Space Policy was also rejected too.
In its short life, the Senate has not been a stranger to controversy. On its first congregation in October, it came under heavy criticism. Some called it insular and “fatally flawed to the point of being undemocratic.”
In a statement to the Mancunion, Ed “Bird is the word” Bird said: “Societies fall under the umbrella of the Students Union, therefore the Safe-Space Policy restricts freedom of expression within those societies. What is the point of a debating society if controversial issues are not allowed to be debated? As adults we should surely strive to be adult enough to be confronted with views which make us uncomfortable.
“I believe that universities should be places where we meet challenging and difficult opinions which we don’t agree with – those are good for our self-development. Even if every student here agreed that our university experience should be one in which our views remain unchallenged, I don’t think that would be beneficial to the development of our society.
“How would we cope in the workplace environment? This is bad for our employability! I hear things I disagree with probably daily, but that’s the real world—part of your education here at the University of Manchester should be how to deal with that.
“I have struggled and failed to create a possible replacement policy which does not contain within it restrictions on freedom of expression or segregation. If anyone is able to create a better policy I am sure the Students’ Union would like to know about it.”