Universities Will Be Required to Defend Free Speech on Campus

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New legislation is being drawn up emphasising the legal requirements of UK Universities and Students’ Unions to defend freedom of speech on campus.

The plans will effectively ban “no-platforming” movements, which seek to prevent speakers who student activists venomously disagree with from talking at their campus.

In the past, universities and students’ unions have blocked radical activists from speaking at universities. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos has recently be barred from speaking at the University of Glasgow and Manchester after students protested. However, Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, reminded relevant parties that it is their “legal duty” to ensure that free speech is allowed at their campuses for “members, students, employees and visiting speakers”.

Controversially, the legislation also regulates Students’ Unions on their policy towards free speech and forces them to give the same guarantees as universities.

A new measure will shut down “no-platforming”, enforcing the theory that access to premises must never be “denied to any individual or body on any grounds connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objective”.

All universities will be required to have a code, laying out how free speech will be observed.

This comes after Spiked Project University Rankings for Free Speech found that 94% of campuses censor free speech in some way, with 64% given a ‘red’ ranking, the lowest possible rating.

 

The University of Southampton and Free Speech

The University of Southampton already has a code for free speech. However, the University has not been without controversy over individuals being able to execute their right over free speech.

One particular incident last year, saw a lecture on whether Israel has the right to exist as a sovereign state, cancelled at the University of Southampton. The Wessex Scene reported on how Southampton Lecturers lost a legal battle with the University regarding restrictions to freedom of speech.

Despite the University claiming to have an “excellent track record” on supporting free speech, it is currently ranked as ‘amber’ on the Spiked Project University Rankings for Free Speech for 2017 as a result of the Israel Conference controversy.

The amber ranking applies to institutions that “chill” free speech by “issuing guidance with regards to appropriate speech and conduct”, further details on the rankings can be found here.

Contrarily, the Students’ Union at the University of Southampton is still ranked as ‘green’, meaning that there is “no restrictions on free speech and expression”.

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