Char­lottesville to LSE

Was it right to ad­mit ‘white na­tion­al­ist’?

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The Lon­don School of Eco­nomics’ de­ci­sion to en­rol a US stu­dent who once de­scribed him­self as a “white na­tion­al­ist” af­ter be­com­ing the face of last year’s far-right Char­lottesville rally has sparked de­bate about the ex­tent to which uni­ver­si­ties can con­sider an ap­pli­cant’s po­lit­i­cal views in their ad­mis­sions pro­cesses.

Peter Cv­je­tanovic ( pic­tured above) achieved world­wide no­tori- ety – and was the sub­ject of an un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign to get him ex­pelled from his uni­ver­sity in the US – af­ter a pho­to­graph of him shout­ing while hold­ing a flam­ing torch was widely shared on­line.

Mr Cv­je­tanovic, at the time a 20-year-old un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Ne­vada, Reno, said in one in­ter­view af­ter the rally: “I will de­fend tooth and nail my views as a white na­tion­al­ist. I love my cul­ture and will fight for it but never in a vi­o­lent way.”

How­ever, in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view a few months later, he said that “call­ing my­self a white na­tion­al­ist was very wrong and I no longer agree,

I no longer see my­self as such”.

Now, a LinkedIn pro­file un­der the name Peter Cv­je­tanovic states that he has moved on from that in­sti­tu­tion af­ter grad­u­a­tion to study a mas­ter’s in po­lit­i­cal the­ory at the LSE. A Twit­ter ac­count un­der the same name states the same.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion has been told that an­other mas­ter’s stu­dent has com­plained to the LSE af­ter be­ing placed in the same halls of res­i­dence as Mr Cv­je­tanovic.

The LSE – founded by Fabian so­cial­ists and known for its in­ter­na­tional stu­dent body – might seem an un­likely des­ti­na­tion for a stu­dent who once de­scribed him­self as a white na­tion­al­ist.

Mr Cv­je­tanovic’s ar­rival also comes at a time when is­sues of free­dom of speech on cam­pus and safe

spaces for stu­dents are the sub­jects of in­tense me­dia and po­lit­i­cal de­bate.

This par­tic­u­lar case raises im­por­tant ques­tions about whether or not uni­ver­si­ties can, or should, take into ac­count any ex­treme po­lit­i­cal views held by ap­pli­cants when de­cid­ing whether to ad­mit them; and how they should re­spond to con­cerns that staff or other stu­dents may have about work­ing and learn­ing along­side such in­di­vid­u­als.

An LSE spokesman said that the in­sti­tu­tion “does not dis­cuss de­tails of in­di­vid­ual stu­dents or stu­dent com­plaints”.

“Nev­er­the­less, we take any com­plaints that are re­ceived very se­ri­ously and have ro­bust pro­ce­dures in place to en­sure that all is­sues of con­cern raised are dealt with promptly and fairly,” the spokesman added.

“The LSE is com­mit­ted to eq­uity, di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion for all mem­bers of the school com­mu­nity. Stu­dents and staff are free to hold and ex­press their own views. How­ever, we ex­pect every­one within the LSE com­mu­nity to treat each other with re­spect at all times.

“Grad­u­ate se­lec­tions are made on the ba­sis of the strength of an in­di­vid­ual’s ap­pli­ca­tion, with an ex­pe­ri­enced se­lec­tor assess­ing each ap­pli­ca­tion, in­clud­ing per­sonal state­ment and ref­er­ences, along­side agreed cri­te­ria set by the de­part­ment.”

Den­nis Far­ring­ton, co-au­thor of The Law of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, said that in­sti­tu­tions in the UK “have the un­qual­i­fied right to ad­mit or refuse to ad­mit any­one as a stu­dent pro­vided they act within the law and do not dis­crim­i­nate on grounds set out in the Equal­ity Act”.

“Em­ploy­ment case law in UK courts and [the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights] sug­gests that in some cases, po­lit­i­cal be­liefs can be con­sid­ered to be philo­soph­i­cal be­liefs and there­fore a pro­tected char­ac­ter­is­tic,” he added. But this was “in the con­text of statu­tory em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tion”, Dr Far­ring­ton stressed.

But he also said that “if the in­sti­tu­tion feels that the per­son con­cerned is a risk to fel­low stu­dents in terms of a com­mon law or health and safety duty of care then ar­guably it should take time to con­sider that risk be­fore ad­mis­sion”.

Dr Far­ring­ton con­tin­ued: “Ad­mis­sion to stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion is a separate is­sue. As­sum­ing that the res­i­dence in ques­tion is op­er­ated by the in­sti­tu­tion and not an­other en­tity, I would ex­pect the in­sti­tu­tion to have re­gard to the safety of all res­i­dents, in­clud­ing the in­di­vid­ual con­cerned, when de­cid­ing whether to of­fer a place.”

David Pal­frey­man, Dr Far­ring­ton’s co-au­thor and di­rec­tor of the Ox­ford Cen­tre for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy, pointed out that the LSE’s ar­ti­cles of as­so­ci­a­tion are “more ex­plicit” than most uni­ver­si­ties’ gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples on rul­ing out dis­crim­i­na­tion in ad­mis­sions.

Af­ter the Char­lottesville rally, a pe­ti­tion cir­cu­lated call­ing on the Uni­ver­sity of Ne­vada, Reno to ex­pel Mr Cv­je­tanovic. How­ever, the uni­ver­sity’s pres­i­dent, Marc John­son, en­sured that he was able to con­tinue at­tend­ing the uni­ver­sity and grad­u­ate.

“He has a right to pur­sue his ed­u­ca­tion at a state in­sti­tu­tion,” Dr John­son told In­side Higher Ed.

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