A University campus is supposed to be renowned for allowing students and staff to engage in freedom of speech – without having policies or rules in place to limit this. However, a recent report by Spiked Online has suggested that very few Universities actually actively promote freedom of speech, with many supposedly actively blocking free speech from their campus. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was was given an ‘amber’ ranking – denoting it has ‘chilled free speech through intervention’.
The report was the latest edition of Spiked Online‘s annual free speech rankings, with 115 Universities being ranked. They examine any policies or actions that the University or Student Union has, and analyses the threat each poses to freedom of speech on campus. These can include specific speakers being banned, censorship and other policies. The organisation subsequently rank each University using a traffic-light system. Red denotes the institution is ‘hostile to free speech’. Amber suggests it ‘chills free speech’, with Green being the best. Click here for a full explanation.
The study suggests there is room for improvement at SOAS. The study noted that SOAS and its Students’ Union ‘collectively create a chilling environment for free speech’. The University secured a green ranking, despite placing some restrictions on IT use. However the SOAS Students’ Union was heavily criticised. The report stated the Union ‘bans Israeli academics’, and ‘restricts offensive speech and jokes’. This averaged out at an amber ranking. This is the third successive year that SOAS has been ranked amber, an improvement on the 2015 red rank.
Only seven of the 115 institutions were given a green rating. Among them were the University of Buckingham, Robert Gordon University, Trinity St. David, and the University of Winchester. No traditional, long-established University attained a green rating. Unfortunately, 63 Universities were given a ‘red’ ranking. 45 Universities attained an amber rating. It should be noted that some have disputed the accuracy and methodology of these findings. Yet by using a consistent model, these rankings can certainly be considered reliable to analyse.
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So a mixed result for SOAS – some areas were praised, while others were criticised. A University is somewhere that freedom of speech should be encouraged and harnessed to help students debate and achieve their potential. It is therefore disappointing to see so many Universities criticised for their stance on freedom of speech. Yet creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable is equally important. Sometimes it seems these two elements cannot function alongside one another.