University free speech rankings in the UK and the US

Spiked Free Speech on CampusFor the first Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) in the UK, Spiked ranked the policies and actions of universities and students’ unions, for free speech purposes, using a traffic-light system – red is bad; amber has chilled speech; green means a hands-off approach to free speech. An overall ranking for an institution is given as an average of the two (university and students’ union) rankings. FSUR is the first step in a campaign by Spiked, in partnership with students around the UK, against free speech restrictions on campus in the UK.

I wonder how Trinity College Dublin would do under the FSUR heads of assessment:

The types of policies we examine include, but are not limited to:

– Free Speech and External Speaker policies
– Bullying and Harassment policies
– Equal Opportunities policies

Students’ union
– No Platform policies
– Safe Space policies
– Student Codes of Conduct

It should be noted that holding one of the above policies does not constitute an instant offence – they are each assessed on the basis of their content.

The types of actions we examine include, but are not limited to:
– Bans on controversial speakers
– Bans on newspapers
– Expulsion of students on the grounds of their controversial views or statements

We only assess actions which have taken place in the past three academic years, in order to offer a reflection of the current administration’s approach to free speech.

In a university context, free speech matters for itself, as well as an as aspect and corolloary of academic freedom. Given that (pdf) Trinity is a “scholarly community where knowledge, learning, imagination and originality prosper”, that it “promotes these virtues in public debate and discourse”, and that it “affirms its rights and responsibilities to preserve and promote , tenure and freedom of expression”, I would hope that it would do well. A green light on these rankings would be a university ranking worthy of the name.

The FSUR traffic light system is part-inspired by the system used by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in the US. In that country, the University of Chicago is leading the way. A Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago was appointed in July 2014 to draft a statement “articulating the University’s overarching commitment to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University’s community.” It reported on 6 January 2015 (reviews: Academe Blog; FIRE) Brandeis Centre here are some highlights from the Report (pdf) (bold emphasis added):

From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University’s culture. … Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community. …

… the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

If any benefactor out there wants to support similar research for higher education institutions in Ireland, I would be happy to co-ordinate it. Roll up; roll up!

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