University administrations are becoming increasingly “censorious”, with nearly a quarter of them having “actively censored speech and expression” in 2017, according to online magazine Spiked.
The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), issued by Spiked, claimed that there are now more students’ unions that do not censor speech in any way than university administrations – a reversal of the findings in the previous two years of the survey.
The survey assessed 115 institutions. Using a traffic light system, FSUR gave a “red” assessment to 23.5 per cent of university administrations – up from 15 per cent in 2016. According to the survey, these universities are “hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words”.
Although 64 per cent of students’ unions were red, 16 were given “green” ratings – meaning they have not restricted or regulated speech and expression – compared with 12 university administrations.
The FSUR found 73 institutions – taking administration and students’ unions as a whole – were “red”. With 35 given an “amber” assessment, it means that 94 per cent of universities censor or “chill” free speech to some degree, according to Spiked. There were only three institutions in the UK with no instances of supposed censorship in 2017: the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the University of Buckingham and the University of the West of Scotland.
In his introduction to the ranking, Tom Slater, FSUR coordinator and deputy editor of Spiked, wrote that the publication had always argued that campus censorship was “about more than the so-called snowflake generation throwing its weight around”.
Commenting on the results, Mr Slater said that universities are “systematically stifling free speech on campus, while students’ unions take all the flak”.
“Students’ unions have been pilloried for censoring ‘transphobic’ speech and enforcing transgender pronouns. But our research shows the vast majority of policies in this area stem from universities themselves,” he said. “While students’ unions are significantly more censorious – and deserve all the criticism they get – universities often share and affirm their illiberal, patronising outlook.”
Among institutions’ actions considered restrictive by the rankings, there were 129 bans. Of these, 21 institutions banned speakers, 20 banned newspapers, and nine have banned “offensive fancy dress”, according to Spiked. And 44 per cent of institutions had “no platform” policies “banning fascist, racist and Islamist groups”, 43 per cent had censorious “religion and belief” policies, and 34 per cent had similarly restrictive “transgender” policies, the magazine said.
The Spiked report said that there was a ban on dressing up as Caitlyn Jenner at Newcastle University, a restriction on “blasphemy” at London South Bank University, and a policy at the University of Surrey insisting that its mascot, Steve the Stag, isn’t depicted by students “drinking, smoking or ‘involved in lewd acts’”.