Union and University ranked red for Free Speech

‘A hostile environment for free speech’? - Newcastle University’s Student’s Union Image: Geograph, Andrew Curtis

Newcastle University Students’ Union has received a red rating from the Free Speech University Ranking (FSUR) for the second year in a row.

Newcastle University also has moved significantly down, from an amber in 2016 to red this year. According to the FSUR survey both the University and the Students’ Union “create a hostile environment for free speech”.

The University was also named as one of the top five most “ban happy” universities in the UK along with Oxford, Swansea, Cardiff and Edinburgh whilst the most “free” universities were Buckingham, Trinity Saint David and West of Scotland.

The project, issued by Spiked magazine, found that 63.5% of the university student unions nationally have been seen as “hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words”.

According to the survey, censorship has increased by as much as 8.5% since 2016.

Within the North East, Durham University also received a red rating whilst Northumbria and Sunderland Universities were ranked as amber.

Jack Taylor, president of the Students’ Union, told The Courier:

“Both the University and the Students’ Union pride ourselves in providing an inclusive and safe environment for all of our 24,000 students.

“The University has been given a red ranking based largely on the fact that we have a zero tolerance policy to sexual harassment, we ban initiation ceremonies and our promotional guidance policy bans smoking advertising, commercial pub crawls and the promotion of payday loans to our students.”

The Free Speech University Ranking also flagged the University’s Transgender Policy which bans “transphobic propaganda” on campus as a reason for its poor score.

Courtney Levin, LGBT+ Officer of the Student Union, said in response:

“Transgender students face enough difficulties at university without having to deal with transphobic materials from others. By putting out media that targets and demeans trans people, it would cause trans students to feel not welcome on campus, and thus severely harm their education. This policy ensures that all students know they are welcome at Newcastle, and prevents others from intentionally (or unintentionally) ruining their university experience.”

After to the survey was released, Newcastle Free Education Network told the Courier

“We are currently concerned with more pressing issues, such as how universities across the country, through policies like Prevent and electronic surveillance, victimise students (particularly international students). How, without any real consultation, universities agree to government reforms like TEF, aimed at increasing student fees.”

They think that “the voice of students only seems to matter when it is in agreement with the economic interests of university management, and this actively undermines our free expression.”

Prevent is the government’s counter-radicalism policy placing responsibility on all UK universities to stop students being drawn into terrorism under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

Interestingly under the reasons for the Student Union receiving red ranking were also such campaigns as the initiative to introduce compulsory consent classes.

The Courier student newspaper believes that Newcastle University and the Student Union seek to provide a safe and equal environment for students to express their opinion through independent student media and Student Council and others.

If you have any concerns about the freedom of speech, please contact the News team at ncourier@newcastle.ac.uk

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