The people at Spiked are currently looking to gain support for their Free Speech on Campus campaign. Among the many things universities are known for (drinking, pissing off the locals, parking problems) we can now add another serious problem - censorship, and the reality that a stilted academic environment leads to stilted minds. Post graduation, those stilted minds then reproduce censorship in the careers they progress - be it in politics, local government, NGOs or business.
I am happy to sign the statement below, and academics can add their name to it by contacting Ella Whelan via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Free speech in British universities is under threat. spiked’s Free Speech University Rankings 2017 found that over 60 per cent of universities and students’ unions actively censor speech. This is a national embarrassment.
Universities are built on intellectual daring - on Kant’s great challenge, ‘dare to know’. But today what students are allowed to read, to express and to know is tightly policed. The terrain of acceptable thought on campus grows smaller by the day.
Students’ unions often take the flak for this. And indeed the rise of Safe Spaces has had a profound impact on students’ freedom to speak their minds and hear others speak theirs. But universities are culpable, too.
spiked found that while SU censorship is still far more rampant, censorship is growing faster within university administrations: scores of universities were found to restrict “offensive” discussion of religion and transgenderism. The freedom to offend, the lifeblood of liberty and progress, no longer exists on many campuses.
British universities are bound by the Education Act 1986 to uphold free speech within the law. Illiberal laws and regulations, such as the Prevent Strategy, make this job very difficult. But there is no reason why some universities maintain robust, liberal standards while the majority preside over vast, speech-policing bureaucracies.
Students’ unions are nominally democratic institutions. It is only through student agitation that SUs will change their ways. Today, we are calling on universities to show leadership.
Universities must repeal any policy or practice that seeks to stifle speech, beyond what the law explicitly requires. They must speak up for Enlightenment values, and not allow themselves to shuffle further into illiberalism and irrelevance.