University receives ‘amber’ rating in free speech rankings

Published

universityavenue

Rhys Harper & Emily James
Online Editor & Writer

The University of Glasgow has been rated “amber” in a “Free Speech University Rankings” study organised by Spiked Online, a right-leaning online publication.

The study, which is in its second year, assessed 115 higher education institutions across the UK. It assigned institutions as green, amber or red depending on how successfully they were deemed by Spiked Online to have upheld free speech on campus.

Glasgow University’s amber rating was assigned on the basis that it “has chilled free speech through intervention”. A statement from Spiked Online further explained: “The University of Glasgow, Glasgow University Union (GUU) and Queen Margaret Union (QMU) collectively create an environment that chills free speech. The university, which has maintained its Amber ranking, places restrictions on ‘offensive’ speech and ‘ridiculing’ cultural differences. It also banned an event involving a homophobic Muslim cleric in 2013.

Collectively, Glasgow University Union and Queen Margaret Union have also maintained an amber ranking, due to restrictions on offensive jokes and QMU’s banning of ‘Blurred Lines’. The University’s other student organisation – the Students’ Representative Council (GUSRC) – was also assessed, but no restrictive policies were found. The institution’s overall ranking remains amber.The banning of the song ‘Blurred Lines’ by the Queen Margaret Union was used by Spiked as an example of an attack on freedom of speech.

Max Sefton, QMU president, told The Glasgow Guardian: “The board of management chose to ban the song ‘Blurred Lines’ in February 2014. These issues are obviously divisive and it’s the policy of the Queen Margaret Union to weigh them on a case by case basis. In this case, I believe that there were a number of complaints from members about the song’s offensive content.”

“I think painting this as a sustained attack on freedom of speech is a bit overdramatic though, people are welcome to disagree or petition for the suspension to be lifted if they feel their rights are being oppressed but, thus far, no one has bothered.”

Spiked Online outlined University policies including the equality and diversity policy and dignity at work and study guidance as offences against free speech, as well as the existence of student union policy with regard to harassment and bullying.

Other Scottish universities deemed “amber” included the universities of Aberdeen and St Andrews, whilst just Robert Gordon, Glasgow Caledonian and the University of the West of Scotland deemed “green” in respect of having “a hands-off approach to free speech”. Edinburgh University and Stirling University were rated red, as having “banned and actively censored ideas on campus”.

Spiked Online gather their data through Freedom of Information requests and publicly published minutes, policy documents and reports. They claim that universities and students’ unions are contacted throughout the process of analysis.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow told The Glasgow Guardian: “Freedom of speech and the ability for staff, students and visitors to express their views and opinions is, and will always remain, core to the mission of the University of Glasgow”.