Universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech. Yet according to a nation-wide poll released today by ADF International (UK), almost 40% of British students admit fears that expressing their views on campus could adversely affect their future career opportunities.
Over a third stated that events are being increasingly cancelled on campus due to objections from other student clubs and societies based on the topic and the speakers.
“Freedom of speech is the foundation of every free and democratic society. Of all places, university is where students should be free to debate and explore ideas – especially those with which they disagree. Institutional policies and practices can suggest that even mainstream views are beyond the pale. Today’s censorship on campus can easily become ‘cancel culture’ in the public square,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF International (UK) which works to protect legal freedoms.
The findings of the national poll follow a number of recent legal challenges to universities across the UK who have been accused of stifling free speech. In one example, Julia Rynkiewicz, a midwifery student, battled suspension and a “fitness to practise” hearing at Nottingham University because of her involvement in a pro-life student group.
The 2019 Manifesto of the Conservatives in Britain promised to strengthen academic freedom and free speech at universities. ADF International (UK) is sending a letter to No. 10 to seek action on the issue. The letter asks that the government take steps to end to “no-platforming” and strengthen legal safeguards for student expression. Supporters of free speech are encouraged to add their signature.
“Too often we have witnessed a students’ union ‘pick sides’ on a social or moral issue and attempt to censor one side of the debate. Universities should be committed to embracing a diversity of views across the student body and improved guidance and training is desperately needed. As a society we should not accept students facing either social exclusion or even elevated disciplinary action because other students or staff disagree with their views. Such a culture runs against the very purpose of campus life and the wider mission of a university,” Christopher said.