Cambridge ranked 'Amber' for free speech

The University took down a fundraising video headed by David Starkey amid accusations of racism. Image credit: surreynews

The University has recently been graded “Amber” in The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), a report conducted for the third time by spiked.

According to the traffic-light ranking system “Amber” describes a university which “has chilled free speech through intervention”. This compares with “Red”, which describes a university which “has banned and actively censored ideas on campus”. On the other hand “Green” describes a university which “has a hands-off approach to free speech”.

A breakdown of the report on the University reveals that the university administration itself has maintained its “Green” ranking, whereas it is CUSU’s ranking which has lowered the overall rating. The report points to CUSU’s Safe Space Policy.

The Safe Space Policy restricts free speech in that it states that “disparaging, mocking remarks are unhelpful to debate and do not serve to maintain an atmosphere of respect and tolerance.”

In justification of the “Amber” rating it added that CUSU had condemned the fact that the Cambridge Union hosted Germaine Greer as a speaker two years ago. At the time she had been accused of making transphobic comments.

Further oppressive features of the University’s stand on free speech include its IT policy. In 2015 the University was also forced to take down a fundraising video, in which the historian David Starkey starred. This was because the staff and student body had accused Starkey of making racist remarks.

For the last three years the University has maintained its “Amber” ranking. It is therefore part of a contingent of 35 universities given an “Amber” assessment. The survey assessed 115 institutions, 73 of which were ranked as “Red”, whereas only 7 universities were awarded a “Green” ranking.

In contrast to Cambridge, Oxford was ranked as “Red”, a ranking it has maintained for the past three years. In fact, the report described its “hostile environment for free speech”. Among other factors it highlights Oxford’s restriction on “offensive” and “needlessly provocative” speech, as well as its insistence that people use transgender pronouns.

Oxford was named as one of “the most ban-happy”, alongside Swansea, Newcastle, Cardiff and Edinburgh. This compares with only three institutions in the UK with no instances of apparent censorship in 2017: the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, the University of Buckingham and the University of the West of Scotland.

The report concluded that the problem is getting worse. In 2015 41% of universities were ranked “Red”, but this has risen to 63.5% of universities in 2017. A corresponding fall in “Green” rankings was recorded. 20% of universities achieved this ranking in 2015, compared to just 6% in 2017.

A distinction was made, however, between the actions of students and those of university administrations as regards free speech and censorship.

The report found that “It’s not just the students [...] University administrations are becoming more and more censorious.”

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