Do we really have freedom of speech at university?

Holly Smith·26 April 2017·4 min read
Do we really have freedom of speech at university?

Do you feel able to voice your views on campus? Can you bring current issues to the fore should something arise?

An article on The Tab last month showed the 16 worst ranked universities for freedom of speech.

Unfortunately Edinburgh was one of them for reportedly banning The Sun from campus. As a student here I decided to investigate.

The article on The Tab writes; ‘’Edinburgh have banned the Sun from campus and have no platformed speakers with ‘controversial’ views such as Tommy Robinson and the SWP. The SU have banned Caitlyn Jenner and Pocohontus as fancy dress costumes, no platformed ‘lad banter’ that trivialises rape, such as Uni-Lad and ‘rape apologist’ George Galloway. The Union also backed a boycott against Israel last March.’’

I chatted to the deputy marketing and communications manager at Edinburgh University Students’ Association to see what the issue may be linked to.

Regarding the claim that Edinburgh turned down Tommy Robinson from speaking at an event, the deputy manager said:

‘’The Tommy Robinson event was a University matter. I’ve discussed with colleagues and we can’t recall any event where we’ve had to block a speaker.’’

It seems that this decision was made by the university itself. This article on the Huffington Post says: ‘’Robinson said he was due yesterday in Edinburgh to be part of a panel discussion on the use of social media “for recruitment to a cause”. He said the university cited “security risks” when they withdrew his invitation earlier this month.’’

I was directed to a list of polices which may be useful to see Edinburgh’s stance on free speech. It seems bizarre that just due to a couple of cancellations, Edinburgh should be branded one of the ‘worst ranked universities’ for freedom of speech, as the article on The Tab claimed.

I think Edinburgh has good reason to ban The Sun from campus due to this reason: ‘’ As a result of a 2012 referendum question EUSA’s Trading Committee removed The Sun from its outlets until they cease to publish page 3 girls’’.

Regarding misogyny and ‘lad banter’, which is increasingly common on university campuses, I think the policy is pretty good, as it encourages women to stand up against gender stereotypes. However this particular policy lapses this semester. More information can be found here.

Regarding costumes, the deputy manager said:

‘’In 2015 we had guidelines on our website, with the aim to encourage students to consider the negative and harmful impact costumes which were based on stereotypes, involved cultural appropriation, or made light of sensitive topics could have on their peers.’’

‘’These guidelines did include several examples to illustrate the kinds of costumes which would be considered problematic and could result in a student not being allowed access into one of our venues.’’

‘’This was part of a campaign run by then Vice President Societies and Activities, Eve Livingston. We didn’t run a similar campaign this year.’’

So overall, I think Edinburgh University have good reasons behind implementing each of their policies. Although freedom of speech is important, when this turns to bullying, violence and aggression, this can violate not only the freedom of others, but their basic human rights too.

What do you think? What policies do your university hold, and do you agree with them?