Universities must stamp out the “institutional hostility” towards free speech that has taken root on campuses, the universities minister has demanded ahead of a free speech summit.
Sam Gyimah MP called for guidance on free speech in higher education to be re-written for the first time in nearly 30 years.
“A society in which people feel they have a legitimate right to stop someone expressing their views on campus simply because they are unfashionable or unpopular is rather chilling,” he said.
“There is a risk that overzealous interpretation of a dizzying variety of rules is acting as a brake on legal free speech on campus.”
The government has become increasingly concerned by the number of student unions shutting down debate under the guise of “safe spaces,” claiming that certain views “harm” minority groups.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 3, 2018
The policy of “no platforming” was originally used against alleged fascists, but has been deployed against reformist Muslims, UKIP members, feminists, and people who criticise transgenderism, political correctness, and abortion – and even Tory MPs.
When not officially sanctioned by institutions, masked leftists and so-called “anti-fascists” have used threats and even violence to silence people they disagree with.
“That is why I am bringing together leaders from across the higher education sector to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends,” Mr. Gyimah added.
.@SamGyimah will host leaders at a #freespeechsummit today, making clear that free speech on #campus should be encouraged and those attempting to shut it down must have nowhere to hide: https://t.co/s3fQJbmTSu pic.twitter.com/ozT3ByFCsb
— DfE (@educationgovuk) May 3, 2018
Mr. Gyimah will argue the current landscape is “murky” and call for clearer guidance on free speech in universities. Last year his predecessor, Jo Johnson, said universities that did not respect free speech could face penalties and public shaming.
A Department of Education (DoE) paper insisted those failing will face “formal sanctions against the provider including monetary penalties, suspension from the register or deregistration.”
Sir Michael Barber, Chair of the Office for Students, said: “Our universities are places where free speech should always be promoted and fostered.
“That includes the ability for everyone to share views which may be challenging or unpopular, even if that makes some people feel uncomfortable.”
Despite the widespread censorship, radical Muslims are often allowed to speak, with a report last year finding universities hosted 110 events with mostly Islamic extremist speakers in the 2017 academic year.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) November 18, 2015
Despite strong universities on free speech in universities, however, the current government rejected a recent petition for a Free Speech Act out of hand, arguing that “freedom cannot be an excuse to cause harm or spread hatred.”