One student explains:
“I think we would be scared to express our opinions in class as we’d have this thing looming at the back of our minds. This bill is essentially undermining everything we do, say and how we approach things or take things in. We’ll be confined within a restricted zone.”Here Baroness Kennedy insists on the importance of the free exchange of ideas, even very bad ones:
The nature of the university is to develop the mind. It is about the whole business of freedom of speech. Freedom of exchange of ideas is at the heart of the university. By challenging orthodoxies, people grow in ideas. Inevitably, some of those ideas will be bad ones, but the best way to deal with them is in debate and by challenging them in the process of learning.I wonder if all of those arguing that the bill may have a chilling effect on free speech are equally concerned about the way in which students’ expression is already being stifled at some universities?
At Manchester the Student Union banned the university’s Free Speech and Secular Society’ (FSS) from displaying Charlie Hebdo at its Refreshers’ Fair.
The reasons for the censorship of the Charlie Hebdo front cover were laid out in an e-mail from the Students’ Union General Secretary, Charlie Cook, and chiefly reflected the view that they found it “unsuitable for the event,” and that they “could see no benefit in allowing the presence of the magazine.The FSS came back with a strong response, which is worth reading in full here:
“There was genuine concern its presence may cause distress and insult to others,” she added.
“It is a commendable goal to make people feel comfortable at university, but censorship itself is offensive. It is offensive to people who wish to commemorate the lives of the twelve people killed in Paris, [and amongst others] to those Muslims who do not condone violence and feel infantilised and patronised by the pre-emptive censorship.Here’s more from the SU spokesperson, trying to justify its censorship:
“Discussion around the issue of freedom of speech and the limits of offence must necessarily include the object of the controversy. Without it, debate is stifled and discussion limited—the antithesis of what a university should promote.
“After being made aware of the potential presence of the images, we wanted to work closely with all groups involved to ensure they were comfortable with the final outcome. The Refreshers’ Fair is a key point in the year to welcome new students as part of the January intake, and many of these students come from countries all around the world.If I was a student at Manchester this act of censorship would certainly not make me ‘feel comfortable’.
“On balance, we took the call that the open presence of the magazine was not in the interests of the event or our members, however the image could be made available to those who asked to see it.