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Campus freedom of speech

Spiked has done a very interesting survey of freedom of speech on UK university campuses, rating each one on how good it is at protecting individuals' right to speak their mind and hear different views.

Needless to say the London School of Economics is right down among the worst. I wasn't surprised to see UCL or Birkbeck with a red flag either. More surprising were the red flags for Oxford and Edinburgh. My own alma mater - St Andrews - was at the other end of the scale and it was interesting to see that the UK's only private university - Buckingham - was also top-rated.

But the really striking thing is just how few universities received a green flag and how many got a red. This really does make the Spiked survey very important and I hope a few universities are now going to take a long hard look at themselves.


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Reader Comments (40)

I think they missed my alma mater from the survey. Strange as it used to be the only place where you could obtain a degree in Brewing.

Feb 3, 2015 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

You have missed the point, it is about "academic freedom".
This "academic freedom" ensures academics are protected and allowed to insult, lie, cheat & mislead the public to protect their gravy train!
Ask any pretend Nobel Laureate!

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

UEA Green Flag - WOW.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Constable

My two are both amber. I was surprised at how may universities there now are (115) and how many I've never heard of. The ones I've never heard of are old technical colleges or worse I presume.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It would be refreshing for academia to take a look at itself . The likelihood of a balanced and thorough review is sadly, on present evidence quite remote. The greasy pole of academic advancement to positions of high self regarding status seems to mandate the embracing a raft of extreme political correctness and insular group think.

It's only a small thing - but it is telling - for quite a few years I was an external library member at my nearest university - and paid a (hefty!) premium for the privilege - but the facility was arbitrarily withdrawn some years ago (a blanket policy rather than something I'd done) - the apparent / received reasoning being why would anybody outside want/need library access - and the hint that it was perceived as a challenge....

From friends inside "the system" who aren't competitive and enjoy their teaching the received wisdom is that engaging in academic politics has gotten way more trouble than it's worth on a personal level and the consequences of being a nail that stands up can be professional suicide....

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:39 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Surprisingly Exeter is given a green flag, considering it's devotion to the "cause"! I think this bias is not unusual in some ways. I remember talking to a young-ish architect years ago, who survived the Plymouth Uni experience in their architecture department, & he assured me the unwritten policy was that none of the lecturers should associate with people who weren't architects! I do not know whether this is still the case.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Seeing UEA listed as green along with Glasgow Caledonian makes me suspect their methodology.
How does it rate campuses where no one in their right minds would even attempt to express certain viewpoints on the basis that absolutely no one there would agree with them?

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterNW

It includes both University and Student's Union, so I regard it as fairly meaningless. Student`Unions don't think they are doing their job if they're not trying to ban something.

Action: an executive decision taken by either a university or a students' union that abridges free speech. This includes, but is not limited to, bans on specific speakers and newspapers.

So a student union refusing to sell, say, The Sun or some other newspaper would meet the requirements. I recall one university student union even refusing to take advertising for a local night club in their newspaper: The student union owned a semi-privatised competing night club.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

This really does make the Spiked survey very important and I hope a few universities are now going to take a long hard look at themselves.

I couldn't agree more but a "long hard look" it is simply never going to happen Andrew.

University campuses and the deans of academia ie the board and 'directors' are fully paid up members of the 'way of things' - political correctness and not much academic excellence is the way of it and with its liberal slant skewing in all things. No doubt, there are some professors who will keep the flame of independent thought, maybe those beholden only to the discipline of their subjects that they teach, probably in the pure sciences. But not many of these independent dons will have the guts and determination to battle the apparatus of state and therein - the great rod of state funding.

Many universities have taken, grabbed the petro dollar, Gulf sovereign funds provide plush new departments on campuses across the nation from Exeter to London and beyond - indubitably these shiny new buildings are not built to promote learning and and academic pre-eminence, they are working to another agenda and young minds are the most easily swayed.

Taxpayer money and gross state interference, or private money and "teach what we tell you to" - I'm not sure what the answer is...until that is - we rein in the state, cull the apparatchiks and give back universities to those few independently minded professors.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Not too surprised by the red flag for Edinburgh, given the recent revelation that one of their academics runs a blog from which all dissenting voices are banned!

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:58 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Good article, but one quibble.

"it was interesting to see that the UK's only private university - Buckingham - was also top-rated.

All universities are private.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterWFC

"Not too surprised by the red flag for Edinburgh, given the recent revelation that one of their academics runs a blog from which all dissenting voices are banned!"

Maybe ATTP needs to rename his blog Khao Phad Gai (pronounced "guy") - Chicken Fried Rice.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

You'll have come across Geoff Palmer then? Friend of mine and the first (and so far only) black professor to get a knighthood.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:28 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I was surprised, like Alan the Brit, mainly for the reason mentioned by Athelstan, that Exeter could get a green flag (although a flag that colour could have at least two negative connotations, that spring to mind).

I think Oxford had a prominent case, a couple of years ago, in which an invited speaker was prevented from addressing the Oxford Union. I can't recall who it was, but I shouldn't be surprised if it was someone speaking on behalf of Israel.

I don't agree with Michael Hart. I think this involves more than stroppy students banning Mars bars for having a sexist name (OK - I made that one up, I think). Universities don't simply tolerate these bans, whether of right-wing newspapers, or of climate sceptics, or of opponents of anti-Semitism, but, in time, they endorse them and incorporate them.

We can see how that goes in America, where some universities have "free-speech zones": literally, very confined, demarcated areas. Remarks, which would be unexceptionable in the real world, may be expressed only in the "free-speech zone". Repeating the same remarks just a few feet away will result in suspension, which is as good as saying that the student with "wrong" opinions won't graduate. Everywhere else on campus, lunacy prevails.

Surprise, surprise: certain universities have already started to restrict what may, or may not, be said in the "free-speech zone". I think the Bishop commented recently, in another context, that the status of US universities is headed inexorably downhill and this is another reason to believe that he was right. As the Americans head for the precipice, I think British universities seem to be desperate to follow them.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

Did the Londom School of Failed Economic theory get extra points for taking donations from Sugar Daddies such as Grantham and GoDaffy?

It is a modification of the traditional "robbing hood" economic theory, of taking from the rich, to give to the poor, only it is now receiving generous donations from the super rich, to advance the careers of the super rich's personal needs

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

spiked on-line has been running a whole series of articles on this subject for months.
Anyone who hasn't been following the debate can get a flavour of it here, here (a useful starting point to understand the concept of "Safe Space" for students, or here. And no doubt elsewhere.
The argument appears to be that nothing should be allowed to intrude on a student's comfort zone and that anything that "challenges" the poor dears is not to be tolerated.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:46 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Paul Matthews, I can't think what you ken... err mean.

Free speech is subjective. A university with little controversy might not need speech rules, whereas a more politically vibrant place might need to set boundaries. eg is the right for some to call for sex segregation in lectures equal to the right of those who condemn it as sexist and divisive?

I'm also sure that free speech can be supressed without a single rule being broken. Climate sceptics come across it all the time. The easiest way to supress free speech is to just not speak to those you disagree with.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

My old university Aston gets a red including for its Student Unions no platform policy, UAE gets green and its Student union banned a UKIP from speaking eg no platform for UKIP.

Not sure of the difference

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:48 AM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Owen Morgan, I'm sure there probably is a problem at at least some Universities. But my point was that the definitions used in this survey mean that it may not be a good way to uncover or describe them.

Feb 3, 2015 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The ones I've never heard of are old technical colleges or worse I presume.
That was my assumption also Phillip. My other assumption is that it would be better if they reverted and gave a good technical education.

I do have to question some of the methodology used in this survey. For example my old uni, Imperial, gets called out because the IT department bans the storage of pornographic and terrorist materials, something I would hope that all universities do. They also seem to be in hot water for banning the black bin bag covering much loved by the female section of a group in the population that mist not be named.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

Alan the Brit, re: Plymouth architectural lecturers not associating with non architects.

In the US, the stonepile I spent 6 years at would likely have favored the same policy had they only thought of it. How else could you keep the other faculty from discovering what idiots we were?

At the time, ridding the place of the dentistry school was all the rage. It was a, (gasp!), trade school. We thought we might be next. For some reason the engine school was not a trade school I guess bridges were ok so long as they weren't built in someone's mouth.

So there you have it, trade schools have become universities and universities shed their trade-schools; must be something about trade schools. Term sort of sticks in the craw, except maybe at dentistry schools.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:18 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

If somebody at a University never invites a persona non grata then the University can not ban them and thus remain green flagged.

What is needed is list of Universities that have actively invited controversial* speakers and not given in to the threats and intimidation.

* There are many speakers who are considered controversial simply for having common sense.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Michael Hart:
It includes both University and Student's Union, so I regard it as fairly meaningless.

My only quibble with your comment would be that the survey is completely meaningless.

Its design is alluded to but not described. For exmple, what questions were asked, of whom and by whom? Its methodology seems cut from much the same cloth as that of, say, a wind power developer telling us how much support their scheme has in the locality, i.e. it's opaque, it's self-serving, it serves merely to confirm the prejudices of its intended readership. Which, to be fair, it seems to be doing admirably. There is e.g. no suggestion that the survey was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Market Research Society, which, though often honoured in the breach, are sensible.

Though it indubitably concerns an issue of importance, it is, emphatically, NOT an important survey.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

The methodology seems fundamentally flawed to me.

Each individual policy and action of a university or students' union is also ranked using the traffic-light system in order to calculate their score.
RedA students' union, university or institution that is hostile to free speech and free expression. It mandates explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words.
AmberA students' union, university or institution that chills free speech and free expression by issuing guidance with regard to appropriate speech and conduct. Policies in this category often concern themselves with the tone, rather than the content, of speech and ideas. This includes, but is not limited to, restrictions on 'offensive', 'controversial' or 'provocative' speech and expression. Policies which vet speakers, literature or events may also fall within this category.
GreenA students' union, university or institution that, as far as we are aware, places no restrictions on free speech and expression – other than where such speech or expression is unlawful.
ActionsThe types of actions we examine include, but are not limited to:
- Bans on controversial speakers
- Bans on newspapers
- Expulsion of students on the grounds of their controversial views or statements
We only assess actions which have taken place in the past three academic years, in order to offer a reflection of the current administration’s approach to free speech.

So soft power is not assessed. Not inviting a sceptic to the CRU at the UEA is not chilling free speech so long as there is no policy. Likewise not inviting a minority political party representative.
In fact, all of this gives a clean bill of health to any institution that acts “reasonably” and only promotes the mainstream.

Such soft power is not available to the alternative viewpoint.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

@jfreguson & Owen Morgan. In Plymouth School of Architecture it was because they didn't want to be tainted with "impure" thoughts as I understood it! Exeter Uni is full of greenery, & I have a delightful friend who works there as a medical history prof, but she often quotes her climate science colleagues who tell her I am wrong & that they believe in the 97% Consensus & therefore must be right! They too have model-mania, imho!

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Noting that UEA got a Green Flag, can we anticipate enthusiastic co-operation with requests for information, under FOIA, or are UEA (and others) just better able to censor unfavourable information, before it finds its way into surveys about freedom of speech?

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie


independant assessment on the foremost attribute of higher education.

This should be a taxpaidfor watchdog, WITHOUT "dave" or "red eddi" being able to drop in buddies (like they did for all the others eg the bird society)

This should be the most important criterium to withhold subsidies on.

Forget about how many multidiversity poops are working in the ever growing bureaucracy, or how many articles they sold to TheQu'Ardian..nono THIS is the most important attribute.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMars Shmallow

Stalin would be very proud of the choice of a red flag, the criteria chosen, and the frequency of its award.

Feb 3, 2015 at 12:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Example of UK university events
- Monday - 'Je suis Charlie' march *
- Tuesday - The Ban Page 3 march **

* (in support of free speech and right to offend by depicting the prophet)
**(in support of limiting speech as there is no right to be offensive by depicting women in a natural state)

By far the biggest problem is self censorship
- Ever seen a university media which presents a climate skeptic view ?
- Heard of many university debates where Climate skeptic speakers are allowed/invited ?

The No Platform rule Official NUS policy
eg LGBT Society get speaker banned due to old opinions on transgender people
"No venue is obliged to host any debate, this does not constitute a violation of free speech."
"Free speech is a right, but a platform is not"
... I say : WRONG it is a limit of free speech using the "some are more equal than others rule" ...not giving proportionate time/access is a bias and restriction.
"the University of Bath was a referendum in which Bath’s students rejected a No Platform policy."
- a couple of UKIP MEPs are specifically banned as "rape deniers or rape apologists"

Nov 2014 Brendan O'Neill's article on Stepford Students
Same as Climate Zombies we mentioned yesterday

However when the Occupy Movement get the law applied to them..the Guardian more than once reports it as : Free speech under threat in UK universities

Talking of Irony The Controversial BBC had a Democracy Day last week.
- It is the 800th anniversary year of the Magna Carta

- From Index on Censorship 20 Universities banned a song ...5 things banned at UK Universities ...Six Banned Speakers

- from the 2010 survey
“Views expressed within universities, whether by staff, students or visitors, may sometimes appear to be extreme or even offensive. However, unless views can be expressed they cannot also be challenged."
.sounds wise to me

Feb 3, 2015 at 3:07 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

It's a survey.

Feb 3, 2015 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

stewgreen "in support of limiting speech as there is no right to be offensive by depicting women in a natural state"

I'm not sure they say that much other than 'tits!' and if you think that they're in their natural state...

There's nothing wrong with calling for something to be banned (including CH) it's thinking you have the right to take the law into your own hands that is. Personally I think page 3 should go because it's naff but then so is the rest of the Sun.

Free speech is not nor it ever should be entirely free. Totally free speech is almost as opressive as no free speech at all. CH magazine is a grubby, nasty publication that isn't even funny. The extremists did more for their circulation than their bitter 'jokes' had done in years. Ironically the cartoons drawn in response of the shootings were far more eloquent and clever than most of CH's own fare. Free speech should be the right to speak the truth, no matter how much it hurts, not say hurtful things, just because you can. One is honesty, the other is bullying.

Feb 3, 2015 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Your eminence, the Universities do take a hard look at issues like this. Their leadership completely approves of the way this sort of report makes them look.

Feb 3, 2015 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

""Not too surprised by the red flag for Edinburgh, given the recent revelation that one of their academics runs a blog from which all dissenting voices are banned!""

And what color attaches to climate blogs that curb comments by ( pick a percentage between 0 & 97) of climate scientists ?

Feb 3, 2015 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRussell


Re.Natural State.
The Sun has never put a girl with breast implants on page 3,it is their policy The paper has more female readers than male. If you don't like it don't read or look at it.
I personally think it is an appalling rag so I don't read it but I would defend the rights of anyone else to read it.

Feb 3, 2015 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Tolson

Roger Tolson, silicon or even air brushing are not the only ways to enhance what nature gave them.

I have no concerns about the Sun. Have a page 3, don't have a page 3, but if it's the right for one lot to demand the right to see those pictures, it's just as much of a right for others to call that they be banned. Both are expressions of freedom. Whether one side or the other gets their way is up to the newspaper. It's not inconsistent to support CH to be free from murder or other violence while at the same time not wanting them to publish their unpleasant brand of humour.

I very much doubt the Sun is mostly read by woman.

Feb 4, 2015 at 1:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

@TinyCO2 I don't think we are going to agree on this but just to clarify my opinion.
- The right to offend is an intrinsic part of free speech & equality, otherwise people can hide behind playing the victim. "You have to listen to what l have to say, but your opinion somehow offends me/My god/my tribe/ so it cannot be reported."
- No the only practical restriction among adults is that of stopping incitement of violence towards others. Yep people have the right to lie, to offend, to be wrong etc.
- Furthermore as the 2010 report mentions if opinions are restricted from being aired then the problem is they are not challenged.
- Perhaps sometimes censoring is a kind of sticking plaster over a bigger real problem eg inequality of opportunity etc. and Other times external laws already apply eg. blackmail, threatening behaviour, defamation etc.

- PS re Sun ..yes there are 2 different things : 1.calling for a thing to be banned OK, and actually banning it; not OK.

Feb 4, 2015 at 5:36 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

What has Uni censorship got to do with climate skepticism ?
1. It is indicative of the normal fascist behaviour of green/left as they shout down any challenging and seek to deny challengers any platform. Making the atmosphere toxic against any other viewpoints
2. Equality (Some are more equal than others) : Skeptics pay taxes yet are banned from expressing opinions on the letters pages of various newspapers*, banned from expressing opinions on The Controversial BBC airwaves, banned from UN events ..and the courts are used aswell. (If Steyn had libelled Mann then syrely Mann would have got the case tried by now instead of dragging it out for more than 2 years.) - Silencing the climate skeptics Blog
* Great column anout an orchestrated campaign to get skeptics letters banned

- "More than 50 Australian academics have signed a letter urging the university to cancel the speech on the basis that Lord Monckton ”stands for the kind of ignorance and superstition that universities have a duty to counter”.
Academics want climate sceptic’s lecture cancelled .. The West, 30 June 2011

3. Just as some Arab forces try to get discussion of evolution banned from university medical lectures ..there are forces in the US, UK and Australia that get climate/green skepticsm censored out of school textbooks and classes so to present the CAGW & Green is magic views.

- CFact yesterday complaining about West Virginia school censorship ..Perhaps more like WVg came up with a biased curriculum and some climate skeptics want stuff put in.
.. Seems that Green religion is so ingrained into teaching profession as 'Love God' has just been replaced by 'Love Green'. So teachers wouldn't see that masses of material pushing "Green is magic' and non inclusion of any other viewpoint as a form of censorship.

Feb 4, 2015 at 9:28 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Article about this in the Telegraph yesterday by Tom Slater, assistant editor at Spiked Magazine.
How ironic though- no comments underneath.

Feb 4, 2015 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

@Messenger's Telegraph clickable link
- Yes, I suppose you can comment in the Spiked article itself

However it is ironic that those censorious green/left students are exactly the first people who ruin comment threads by filling them with snarly unconstructive bile.

Feb 4, 2015 at 9:34 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Student Unions are a joke.

They're usually run by cliques who are up their own arses. They spend all the time thinking of ways to appear "right-on" from which all their self-absorbed policies come.

When it actually comes to looking out for the daily interests of individual or groups of students such as exploitation by landlords, unjustified decisions by the university that affect their education and career prospects etc. (rather than gender-equality etc.) they're usually silent (too much work and with no observers to get a pat on the back from). So for the vast majority of students they're irrelevant.

I have experience of this. As a student I and a few of my fellow students had a problem with a pretty crap landlord. We went to the Union and their resident lawyer clearly didn't give s**t, just stating well if you signed a tenancy agreement. But of course the contract is superseded by the law-of-the-land and we later found out this the following year after by-passing the Union and going straight to the University's accommodation department (AD). The lady in the AD made it clear that most contracts of that nature are unlawful. The landlord in this case backed down and we left with our deposit.

Feb 5, 2015 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered Commentercd

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