• counterpunch
    745
    The government has announced plans for a "free speech champion" to ensure universities in England do not stifle freedom of speech and expression.

    The champion will regulate matters such as "no-platforming" of speakers by universities or student unions.

    But groups representing the sector are cautious, saying universities need to keep their "institutional autonomy".

    The National Union of Students says there is "no evidence" of a freedom of speech crisis on campus.

    Peter Tatchell, a gay rights activist, said the plan for a free speech tsar was part of a "cynical culture war" to use "hot-button culture issues" to secure political advantage.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55995979
  • Book273
    287
    I am not seeing a question...However, while I cannot speak to higher education in the UK, having never visited there, I can speak to higher education in Canada.

    Short version: freedom of speech is allowed within the accepted views of the current political narrative. So students are free to speak as along as they support the mainstream views. However free that is. Speak against it and the speaker will be labeled as the closest fitting "ist" that can be applied to them. Depending on how loud, or how off narrative the speech is, one could be looking at academic probation, having funding removed, for students who are attending on grants, or being removed from the school. The last time I attended university I was advised to "Go to class, shut up, and keep your head down. If you speak up you paint a target on your chest; then you're done." I learned a great deal in university about covering my ass, how to assess weaknesses, and that every encounter must be documented accurately for when (not if) an instructor or student decides to take you down. None of that was in the official academic program, but was required learning in order to make it through.

    If the government has decided that universities need a "free speech champion" then free speech has been being stifled for a long time. When was the last time a government did anything quickly? That isn't really what they are known for.
  • ssu
    3.8k
    The National Union of Students says there is "no evidence" of a freedom of speech crisis on campus.counterpunch
    :grin: Hilarious! Ah, have to love the 2020's...
  • Book273
    287
    Everyone that had evidence was silenced and then expelled...
  • counterpunch
    745
    I am not seeing a question...Book273

    I thought the questions would form themselves. Your example is terrifying, and presumably precisely what these measures are intended to prevent.

    freedom of speech is allowed within the accepted views of the current political narrative.Book273

    How can any university worth the name - presumably for fear of offence, restrict freedom of speech, and so restrict freedom of conscience, opinion, academic enquiry, and scientific investigation? The damage done to academic reputations will be profound if any Canadian research can be dismissed as cookie cutter dogma.
  • Book273
    287
    The unstated reality of it is that one may voice and pursue any opinion, as long as no one gets offended. Apparently the right to never be offended is of far more value than freedom of speech, or of inquiry. I was, too say the least, very disappointed in the reality of higher education here. It was astoundingly rigid and conformist, not what I had expected at all. Live and learn eh.
  • ssu
    3.8k
    I've allways stated that if you go through university education and still are excited about what you have studied, remain motivated and have an open, inquisitive mind, then you are ready for the ready for to do something in academic World.
  • Hanover
    6k
    How can any university worth the name - presumably for fear of offence, restrict freedom of speech, and so restrict freedom of conscience, opinion, academic enquiry, and scientific investigation?counterpunch

    The universities do not believe they are stifling free speech, so they are objecting to having a government oversight committee formed to regulate them. It'd be like if we formed a committee to be certain you did not lie, your objection would be that it's unnecessary because you don't lie, and there's a certain amount of insult in suggesting you do. That at least explains why they would not welcome such an oversight committee.

    Obviously though the government disagrees and thinks the problem has risen to a level that it needs to be corrected.

    My own view is that everything anyone wants to say seems to get said, even if certain forums close their doors to certain opinions. I'm not dismissing the significance of those instances when a university suppresses certain forms of speech, but let's not pretend that that suppression has the actual effect of keeping people from speaking. The net result of that suppression seems to be exactly as you've said, which is that it makes universities look bad for trying to control speech they don't want to hear. Ultimately though, they control nothing and the speakers speak, and then there's added speech about how the universities suck.
  • baker
    613
    If the government has decided that universities need a "free speech champion" then free speech has been being stifled for a long time.Book273
    And now they are gong to actively, governmentally champion stifling free speech!
  • ssu
    3.8k
    Short version: freedom of speech is allowed within the accepted views of the current political narrative. So students are free to speak as along as they support the mainstream views. However free that is.Book273
    Current political narrative in the universities doesn't go hand by hand by those in political power.

    There is a loud minority in the academia made by activist students and their supporters in academia who see as their obligation to "defend" the institution from something like rightwing extremism, racism and intolerance, who lurk under the veil of "freedom of speech". And then there's the vast majority who are in the university to either study or to work on their fields and fear to be the target of the activist crowd or simply don't care about what the fuss is about, so they opt not to engage in any political discussion. And why do that? Someone might cancel you. And finally there's the few that think that the above means that the universities have been overtaken by Cultural Marxists.

    Just like in the 60's, it's actually hard to understand that the majority of students back then were far more conservative than the hippies that are now described as to be the dominant group back then. But those who are the loudest dominate the scene, I guess. Or those most successful in their cancel culture, I might add.

    Anyway, the government getting itself into this mess won't solve anything. Don't get into a mess that isn't for you. The likely outcome is that everybody is annoyed of the government. A loosing proposition, I'd say.
  • NOS4A2
    4.3k


    I don’t trust that a “free speech champion” should compel people to advocate for free speech under fear of fine and sanction. That seems to me the opposite of free speech.
  • counterpunch
    745
    I don’t trust that a “free speech champion” should compel people to advocate for free speech under fear of fine and sanction. That seems to me the opposite of free speech.NOS4A2

    Under the plans, universities would be legally required to actively promote free speech and the OfS would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breach this condition. This would also extend to student unions, which would have to ensure that lawful free speech is secured for members and visiting speakers. Individuals would be able to seek compensation through the courts if they suffered loss from a breach of the free speech duties - like being expelled, dismissed or demoted - under a new legal measure. The Department for Education said the next steps for legislation would be set out "in due course".

    It seems there would be a legal obligation on academic institutions to promote free speech; which presumably would undermine those who seek to take offence as a means to power. If the answer to - 'I'm offended' becomes 'So what?' - they are forced to engage on meaningful ground, and defend their arguments on merit. I think that's healthy. I don't imagine there will be some free speech monitor in every seminar - but rather, the measures seem designed to provide a free speech defence for the university against these professional complainers.
  • counterpunch
    745
    I think you're mistaken. I would cite the example of JK Rowling - who made a somewhat innocuous remark about politically correct verbiage used in a warning raising awareness of cervical cancer. The warning referred to 'the cervixed' - and Rowling said something like, "didn't we used to call them women?"

    Immediately, she was demonised and twitter mobbed. Had it been anyone but an independently wealthy author, she might have been drummed out of her job - because the employer doesn't want the negative publicity. This same kind of politically correct terrorism is going on in academia. So where you say:

    everything anyone wants to say seems to get said, even if certain forums close their doors to certain opinions. I'm not dismissing the significance of those instances when a university suppresses certain forms of speech, but let's not pretend that that suppression has the actual effect of keeping people from speaking.Hanover

    I think you're mistaken. The effects are somewhere between difficult and impossible to quantify, but look into the case of Lindsay Shepard. How can you claim there's academic freedom under those conditions?
  • counterpunch
    745
    The unstated reality of it is that one may voice and pursue any opinion, as long as no one gets offended.Book273

    How Kafkaesque! Always on trial for a crime you might commit by saying something someone else might find offensive.

    Apparently the right to never be offended is of far more value than freedom of speech, or of inquiry. I was, too say the least, very disappointed in the reality of higher education here. It was astoundingly rigid and conformist, not what I had expected at all. Live and learn eh.Book273

    I'm offended by people who seek to take offence. I hope these measures remove the superstitious power of offence taking - and force these people out into the open to defend their arguments on merit.
  • Isaac
    4k
    she was demonised and twitter mobbed. Had it been anyone but an independently wealthy author, she might have been drummed out of her job - because the employer doesn't want the negative publicity. This same kind of politically correct terrorism is going on in academia.counterpunch

    Isn't all that 'speech'? Wouldn't preventing it require some kind of restriction on free-speech?
  • Isaac
    4k
    I don’t trust that a “free speech champion” should compel people to advocate for free speech under fear of fine and sanction.NOS4A2

    Why would they have any fear? The new rules have only so far been communicated with speech and apparently speech has no effect whatsoever on other people...so if these people fear fines as a result of some speech, that's their problem.
  • counterpunch
    745
    Isn't all that 'speech'? Wouldn't preventing it require some kind of restriction on free-speech?Isaac

    No. There's no free speech defence for closing down others. You don't get to delegitimise, shout down, drown out and de-platform other people - and claim that doing so is only exercising your right to free speech. If you appeal to free speech you have to respect that right for others.
  • baker
    613
    How Kafkaesque! Always on trial for a crime you might commit by saying something someone else might find offensive.counterpunch
    Yes. It's called "being civilized".
  • counterpunch
    745

    Yes. It's called "being civilized".baker

    If that's what you think then you're either a dupe - or a fraud, out to dupe others.
  • baker
    613
    You don't get to delegitimise, shout down, drown out and de-platform other peoplecounterpunch
    It's not possible to do so anyway, so the whole idea is a non-starter. Deplatforming would be possible if there would exist neutral communication avenues, a no-man's land where everyone would equally belong and not belong. But there is no such place.

    Every newspaper, every tv and radio station, every website, every youtube channel, every physical space fit for any kind of communication is owned by someone, and that person or organization gets to call the shots on what can be said there and what can't.

    That's why, for example, Twitter closing down someone's account is not an act against free speech: because Twitter is a private company, and it is fully in their right to decide whose posts they will publish and whose they won't.
  • baker
    613
    Really, you live in a society where people don't have to walk on eggshells all the time??!
  • Isaac
    4k
    No. There's no free speech defence for closing down others. You don't get to delegitimise, shout down, drown out and de-platform other people - and claim that doing so is only exercising your right to free speech. If you appeal to free speech you have to respect that right for others.counterpunch

    So there are limits to free speech. On what grounds?
  • counterpunch
    745
    Really, you live in a society where people don't have to walk on eggshells all the time??!baker

    I live in a society where a man on a TV politics talk show was told by a member of the audience that his opinion was illegitimate because of his skin colour; and that woman thought she was in the right - because the man was white. I live in a country pervaded by a form of reverse identity politics - that clothes itself in the garb of moral righteousness while stereotyping people, and discriminating against them on that basis. It needs to stop, and key to that is freeing people from the threat of academic sanctions for opposing this vile dogma.
  • counterpunch
    745
    Every newspaper, every tv and radio station, every website, every youtube channel, every physical space fit for any kind of communication is owned by someone, and that person or organization gets to call the shots on what can be said there and what can't.baker

    No, they don't. For online publishers in particular, there are legal requirements, and platforms like twitter are legally responsible for the content posted by their users. I don't agree with this policy at all - and don't believe platforms would be so jittery about the opinions expressed were it otherwise. This is the next policy that needs to change.
  • unenlightened
    5.5k
    I would think that an education establishment should not be a place of freedom of speech at all. It should be a place where truth is privileged. Flat Earthers, propagandists, bullshitters, conspiracy theorists, and purveyors of fake news should be given no platform. Am I allowed to say that?

    Of course there can be debate as to what is true in some cases, but generally, Universities are places to establish the truth and are certainly more likely to have a handle on things than political appointees. Or if not, then abolish them and save some money.
  • counterpunch
    745
    So there are limits to free speech. On what grounds?Isaac

    The classic example is shouting fire in a crowded theatre without cause. It would cause panic, and unambiguous harm. It's not controversial to accept this would have no free speech defence. Any advocate of free speech would accept this limitation. Child pornography is another accepted limitation. Accepted limitations generally revolve around the harm principle.
  • Banno
    11k
    Free speech does not entitle one to an audience; nor even to a platform.
  • counterpunch
    745
    Free speech does not entitle one to an audience; nor even to a platform.Banno

    I don't know anyone who thinks it does.
  • Banno
    11k
    ...then we agree with @unenlightened that Universities ought not be obligated to provide a platform to fools.
  • counterpunch
    745
    ...then we agree with unenlightened that Universities ought not be obligated to provide a platform to fools.Banno

    I didn't reply to unenlightened's comment for the same reason universities would ignore flat earthers. This isn't about arguments that lack academic merit. It's about legitimate views de-platformed for political ends.
  • Banno
    11k
    It's about legitimate views de-platformed for political ends.counterpunch

    Hm. So we ought socialise the free market of ideas when the stuff we want said gets ignored?
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