Extra vetting for Exeter conferences

24th February 2012 By David Palmer

Exeter College is set to implement an “unprecedented” set of vetting measures for organisations hoping to hold events at the college.

The decision comes in the wake of the controversy sparked by the College’s decision to allow the Wilberforce Academy to hold a conference there during the coming vac.

Students were angered that the Academy, which is organised by the anti-gay Evangelical pressure group Christian Concern, might be able to use the college’s prestige to legitimise their own beliefs.

A meeting of the College’s governing body came to the decision to set up a Working Group which will include both students and fellows, and will deliberate on a new set of regulations concerned with private bookings of college facilities.

The College Bursar, William Jensen, explained that the aim of the group will be to bring around a set of regulations which would in future ensure that groups holding conferences at the college would be “appropriate” to the ethos of the college.

When asked if any decisions had been made regarding the Wilberforce Academy specifically he said that “the matter hasn’t arisen” and that no specific decisions have been made. However, he did comment that he thought the Academy was “unlikely to want to come back”. When asked to give his opinion on the original decision to allow the Academy to come to the college the Bursar declined to comment.

The Chaplain of the College, Stephen Hearn, who also attended the governance meeting, confirmed that the college would be “reviewing all future applications for bookings”.

The decision has been applauded by the college’s student community, with LGBTQ rep Ed Allnutt commenting: “When Exeter JCR first became aware of the Wilberforce Academy’s upcoming conference, there was a righteous level of indignation. We were worried that people with homophobic views would be sharing our living space, and, worst of all, would be able to use the college and the university as a whole in their publicity.

“Following the uproar and your article on the issue, College have now promised us a vetting process for the future, which I would say, in agreement with the governing body, will be a precedent-setting move. We as students were right to feel angry about the conference; the OxStu was right to raise publicity about it and the governing body has been right to take such swift action.” Allnutt then went on to say that although no decision concerning the Wilberforce Academy had yet been made, he was “confident that these new proposals will mean that the Academy will not be allowed to hold any events at our college in the future”.

Another Exeter second year praised the College administration’s initiative but added that: “I think it’s a shame that something like the Christian Concern debacle had to occur to make change happen. But I still feel proud of the way Exeter has responded, and I hope that other colleges will follow this example”.

Exeter Rector Frances Cairncross declined to comment on the new initiative.