University slated for poor freedom of speech rankings

Cardiff University has been slated for creating a ‘hostile environment’ for the freedom of speech of its students, after being placed in the worst category in a free speech university rankings table.

While the University received an amber label in the table’s traffic light rankings, the Student’s Union was put in the red category after being condemned for its actions imposing three ‘considerable bans’ in the last year.

The news follows in the wake of statistics revealing that 80% of UK universities and 88% of Russell Group institutions actively impose restrictions on free speech.

According to the ranking system created by current affairs website Spiked, a ‘red’ warning is only imposed after active censoring and banning has taken place, whilst ‘amber’ refers to a ‘chilled free speech through intervention’.

The table cited reasons for the Union’s poor results including the introduction of the ‘Anti-Lad’ policy in 2012, the decision to prevent Student Union outlets from selling The Sun and magazines such as ‘Nuts’, and the decision to stop sexist comedian Dapper Laughs from performing at the venue.

It also referred to the banning of Cardiff University Football Club from their annual Varsity match against Swansea and a two week freeze on training and matches after the a presentation given on a team social explaining how to target girls with self-esteem.

The ‘amber’ rating for the University was given due to its sexual orientation and religion and belief policies, with a zero-tolerance attitude towards discrimination.

However, questions have been raised over validity of the assessment and its negative implications. Student’s Union President Elliot Howells criticised the table, explaining that: ‘I struggle to comprehend how an institution having a policy against sexual harassment and ensuring students and staff have the right to study and work in a dignified environment is a bad thing.’

Howells continued: I actually think Cardiff University students strike a very healthy balance between providing a safe and accessible environment for students while not damaging free speech. A perfect example of this is the implementation of our Zero Tolerance policy, which, amongst other things, prevents the Students’ Union giving a platform to certain songs protecting a particular liberation group.

The President explained that policies with the potential to limit freedom of speech have been prevented from being implemented. This was seen at this year’s AGM, as a motion to define the Union as pro-choice, acting against the beliefs of a number of students and religious societies, failed to be voted in.

‘I would happily defend the policies we have in place to protect our students at their chosen place of study and I am disappointed that this ‘league table’ is even being acknowledged.’

The criteria for the rankings table has also been disputed by the University, as a spokesperson stated:  ‘We make no apology for introducing measures, for example, that prevent jokes that are sexist, racist or about an individual’s sexual orientation and ensure that unwelcome sexual invitations, innuendos and offensive gestures as well as the circulation of abusive, offensive or homophobic materials are not tolerated.’

Despite this, the University emphasized the importance of free speech and ‘academic freedom’: ‘We ensure – wherever possible – that the use of university premises is not denied to any person or group on the basis of their ‘beliefs or views’.

‘Universities are, rightly, places where controversial views can be heard, considered, debated and contested. This is a central element of the purpose of a university, and we respect our duty to secure freedom of speech for academics, students and for visiting speakers on campus.’

Neighbouring university Cardiff Metropolitan also ranked poorly for its freedom of speech restrictions as one of the 47 universities within the UK to be categorized in the red category, including Oxford University and UCL.

The news comes after past decisions made by the Student’s Union to stop the sale of a number of products, including those made by multinational food company Nestle.  For further information on products banned within the Union, see ‘Ban this article’ in our Comment section (article coming soon).