New university free speech rankings are out – and it’s not good news for our big two

The University of Kent's Templeman Library

Words to have come into common usage in the course of this decade include snowflake, no-platform and safe space.

They share the fact that they are linked in one way or another to the assault on free speech taking place on university campuses across the UK.

A snowflake is, for example, a person – usually young – who is who is easily hurt or offended by the statements or actions of others.

To no-platform someone is to deny them the opportunity to publicly speak at an event or gathering. A safe space is a place either figurative or actual to where a person can retreat so that they do not encounter ideas they do not like or to shield themselves from criticism of their own views.

All three words are inextricably bound up with life at modern universities. It is, after all, only a few days since protesters noisily disturbed a talk by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg at the University of the West of England in Bristol, chanting “no platform for fascists”.

Canterbury Christ Church University’s Augustine House

It was out weighty concern over developments on campus that online current affairs magazine Spiked, which editorialises in support of free speech, launched its Free Speech University Rankings.

Universities receive a red, yellow or green mark depending on how they and their student unions have acted in relation to free speech.

Spiked’s 2018 rankings show that the University of Kent received a yellow mark, meaning it had “chilled free speech through intervention”.

The picture, however, is far grimmer at Canterbury Christ Church University, which received a red mark.

Spiked concluded that the university and its union “collectively create a hostile environment for free speech”.

The disturbing aspect here is that in 2015 and 2016 Christ Church received green marks, awarded for maintaining “a hands-off approach to free speech”.

It is taking a worrying direction – and seemingly mirrored by universities across the country.

Of all the 115 institutions surveyed 63 received red marks, 46 were yellow and just six green.

Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked.

Those attending our universities today are the leaders of tomorrow. It should be inconceivable that they study in academic environments where the notion of freedom of speech is aggressively undermined by the very institutions themselves.

As Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked, said this week: “Freedom of speech is the most important freedom there is.

“It is the freedom upon which all other freedoms are based, upon which democracy becomes possible, through which the individual becomes autonomous, a full and morally responsible adult.

“Because unless we can speak for ourselves and think for ourselves and judge for ourselves, we are not truly free, and instead we become the child-like charges of those who Know Better.”