MPs warn that free speech at universities is being shut down

Elizabeth Whittingham·2 April 2018·5 min read
MPs warn that free speech at universities is being shut down

“Students must respect the right of other students to say things, no matter how unpleasant, offensive or insulting. They can protest, but they can’t stop them”

Pictured above, Harriet Harman, who has warned that universities are facing a suppression of free speech.

Last week, MP’s up and down the country warned about the dangers of completely shutting down free speech on university campuses.

A new report by the Joint Committee of Human Rights has found that free speech on campus can often be hindered and sometimes prevented altogether by opinions surrounding ignorance, lack of guidance and red tape.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has claimed that it is evident that universities cannot be completely safe spaces, expressing the importance for making allowance for new ideas and opinions to pave the way for debate and education.

These ideas have come in response to a variety of events being shut down and prevented across universities, with debates and speakers often being opposed by Student Unions, societies or specific groups of people.

MPs claim that universities, under the law must be places of open and uncensored debate.

Therefore, if an MP or an author decides to speak at a university, they should not have their space intruded upon nor have their own event called off.

MP’s this week have warned about the dangers of intolerance regarding free speech- urging unions to offer platforms to everyone.

The Universities’ Minister, Sam Gyimah, has expressed his concern for the creeping culture of censorship over main campus’ across the UK, whilst MP and chairwoman of the committee of national rights- Harriet Harman, has called for the main defense for freedom of expression in universities within the UK.

Harman has stated that students no longer see their campus as a space to express themselves, in fear of their opinions being suppressed by the union, according to the chairwoman; students are definitely looking over their shoulders.

The report, which was published last week, states that ‘masked protest,  intimidatory filming or physical disruption is unacceptable and must be stopped’, according to Harriet Harman, students must be prepared to listen to what their fellow students have to say- although they may disagree, they cannot stop them from expressing their opinions’.

The Committee have found that key points of debate on campus tend to focus around the Israel/Palestine crisis, abortion, transgender issues and right VS left wing clashes, these topics earned a special focus due to recent events.

There was an anti-abortion protest on the University of Manchester last week, students stood in front of the group until they left; Jacob Reese-Mogg, right-wing politician, attempted to make a speech at the University of the West of England, Bristol, in early February, but had the event called off when masked protesters broke into the hall and started fights, even London South Bank University have banned speakers, who ‘are likely to commit blasphemy’!

Over the past three years, there has been a collective 129 bans across UK universities.

21 universities have been recorded to have banned specific political speakers, whilst 17 have banned adverts, 20 have banned newspapers and 16 universities have suspended countless students for dressing up in fancy dress that has been deemed offensive.

FSUR co-ordinator Tom Slater has labelled as universities for ‘stifling of free speech’, urging universities to once again be places of political expression and topical debate.

The Committee on Human Rights has commented on the ‘chilling’ effect of shutting down free speech at universities; ‘Universities must be places where open and uncensored debate (within the law) can take place so students can think for themselves and develop their own opinions on ideas which may be unpopular, controversial or provocative.’

The Committee has also gone on to state that the right to protest does not stretch to the right to completely stop political events entirely, with certain speeches being called off entirely due to the work of protesters.

Despite claims of free speech censoring, the director of policy at Universities UK has stated that there is no hard evidence that freedom of speech is being affected at universities across the country, stating that out of the thousands of events that take place each year, there are only a minority that experience controversy, stating that overall, the majority of events are able to take place with little disruption.

Despite this, new reports are unearthing the suppression of political, social, religious and ethical beliefs on university campus’ across the country, taking the topical and healthy debate out of the learning environment.

What do you think about free speech at university? Have you ever experienced your free speech being suppressed?