University accused of censorship in nationwide survey

Newcastle University and its Students’ Union have been criticised for censoring free speech as it has been ranked one of the worst in the country. Spiked, an online magazine, organised The Free Speech University Rankings 2016 which takes into account the policies and actions carried out at institutions to rank them using a traffic light system. Newcastle University was given an overall red ranking, despite the institution being given an amber classification as it bans initiations for societies. The University argues that initiations encourage members to partake in excessive binge drinking. The University has also implemented a Code of Practice for Free Speech that prohibits individuals whose aims and objectives are not compatible with the University from being able to deliver speeches. The Students’ Union received a red ranking by Spiked as it bans transphobic speech, advertisements for payday loans and smoking, and commercial pub crawls. A ban to prohibit The Sun and Daily Star newspaper from being sold in the Students’ Union was implemented in May 2013 to show support to the No More Page 3 campaign.

According to the President of NUSU, Dom Fearon, “The article as it was written was ridiculous. It is important to have free speech on campus while simultaneously providing an inclusive environment for all students. The reasons given for us receiving a bad grade were having a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and banning transphobic speech. I cannot imagine how Spiked or anyone for that matter can see this as a bad thing.”

A statement issued by Newcastle University says, “[We] pride ourselves on providing a diverse and welcoming campus. Universities should be places where debate happens and there is an opportunity to hear a range of views. However, this is balanced with the need to provide an inclusive environment for all our students and staff.”

Newcastle University was awarded an amber classification in 2015 which is defined as having “chilled speech through intervention.” The deputy editor of Spiked, Tom Slater, has defended the magazine’s decision to give Newcastle University a red ranking, as he claims that the institution treats students like “overgrown children.” Slater criticises universities and their student unions as they feel the need for censorship in order to protect the wellbeing of their students. This may include advertisements, initiation ceremonies, and drinking games.

In order to carry out their findings, Spiked assesses the policies and actions undertaken by universities and extra-curricular activities, including social and politically orientated ones. Spiked collects its information through Freedom of Information requests, as well as looking closely at policy documents and reports. This year Spiked assessed 115 institutions from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s list of UK universities that it funds.

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