Explained: Free Speech University Rankings


Last week, ‘political’ online magazine Spiked released their long-awaited free speech university rankings list, ranking universities across the UK as ‘red’ for banning and actively censoring ideas on campus, ‘amber’ for chilling free speech through intervention, and ‘green’ for having a hands-off approach to free speech. There was outrage as Lancaster University had been given a ‘red’ rating for their second year in a row, due to their dangerous, extreme, unfair, and unnecessary censorship comparable to the oppressive free-speech hating one-party state of North Korea. Or, at least that is how a lot of people are reacting.

The Tab were, of course, quick to react to this, criticising LUSU’s red and amber ranked policies, saying that it’s ‘embarrassing’, rendering students as ‘hypersensitive’, criticising campaigns focusing on gender-neutral language, and of course claiming that some of us are perpetually offended and live in a bubble.

I decided that, like The Tab and Spiked, I too would go through the four awful, disgusting policies that are doing no more than contributing to turning campus into a censored Soviet utopia.

The University’s ‘Bullying and Harassment Policy’, ranked as ‘amber’.
In case you didn’t already know, it appears that wanting to ban physical and verbal bullying and harassment is a bad thing. This policy covers sexual harassment, harassment on grounds of sexual orientation, racial harassment, harassment on grounds of religion or belief or lack of belief, and disability harassment. People have reacted to this policy due to one line of text, which claims that bullying and harassment is still not acceptable ‘even if offence is not intended’. I’m sure university management are more than capable of looking at each situation case by case and making a rational decision about what to do, and that if offence wasn’t intended, they would take action to make sure the person(s) involved know how and why it was a bad thing to do.

LUSU’s ‘Prevention of Offensive Activities Policy’, ranked as ‘amber’.
See above. Apparently a policy which condemns harassment and breaking the law is bad too. If a student is worried or suspects that an activity may cause harm or offence, they must submit a Prevention of Offensive Activities motion to the LUSU President for that activity to be prohibited, which all members of Union Council will be made aware of. The outcome of this motion can be appealed by those organising the event if they feel as though their event has been misjudged, and they are given a platform to defend themselves. That sounds pretty fair to me.

LUSU’s ‘Equal Opportunities Policy’, ranked as ‘red’.
Creating and promoting equal opportunities? Bad. This policy also covers harassment and discrimination, but also recognises that people have their own autonomy and are able to make their own decisions about whether or not they feel they have been treated unequally. This policy also abides by the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, which states that individuals and groups can practice free speech so long as it is within the law to do so. Just like in the real world. The University, and therefore LUSU, are obliged by law to ensure that freedom of speech and expression is secured for students, staff, and visiting speakers, so long as their speech is not sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.

LUSU’s ‘No Platform for Fascists’ policy, ranked as ‘red’.
So fascism is the ideology supposedly directly opposed to liberalism, but banning fascism is anti-liberal. Got it. In all seriousness, maybe this motion written by LUSU didn’t have the best wording. The motion discussed how those supporting the British National Party, who in Section 1, Article 2B of their constitution say that they are ‘wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples […] committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration’, should not be allowed a platform. Because you know, racism is bad (without focusing on the fact that there are ‘non-whites’ in Europe, but we’ll leave the Geography lesson for now). It also outlines a long list of policies and beliefs from various members, including ‘rape is simply sex, women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal’ and ‘the Holocaust was the hoax of the twentieth century’. So basically this is more of a ‘No Platform for Racists, Anti-Semites and Pro-Rapists’ motion. Sounds awful.

LUSU’s Poster Code Bye-Law
If any of you have ran for an election, you’ll understand how easy it is for someone to target you with abuse. Rule 4.1.6. in the bye-law has been criticised for banning language outlined in the University’s Bullying and Harassment Policy and LUSU’s Prevention of Offensive Activities Policy. Basically, don’t have homophobic, sexist, or racist language on your posters, and don’t attack a candidate directly as a person.

LUSU have also banned ‘lad mags’, initiations and The Sun newspaper. There is a whole range of evidence supporting the claim that ‘lad mags’ perpetuate rape culture, and you only need to read the front page of The Sun to realise how awful it is. Initiations have been defined as acts which ‘subjects another person to anything that may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, harass or intimidate them’, and I’m quite happy that I can join a society without having to, I don’t know, put my genitals into a dead animal’s mouth.

The people who are constantly criticising censorship and content warnings are often quick to claim that those who agree with it or those who are covered and protected by various anti-harassment policies don’t live in the real world, and I have to agree. In the real world, there are no anti-harassment laws like on our campus, and there are certainly no content warnings anywhere either. The real world is actually a terrifying place, where racism, sexism, and homophobia are rife, and there are absolutely no measures to protect people like there are on campus, and we really should just get over it.

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