Lancaster ranked ‘red’

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Red, amber, red for Lancaster University. Photograph: grendel khan; Modification: Rebecca Johnson

Lancaster University is ranked ‘Red’ overall for freedom of speech. A recently published article by the Telegraph detailed the results of a report released by online magazine, Spiked.

The analysis which was carried out by the online magazine showed that 9 in 10 universities in the UK have censored speech, according to their questionable criteria.

The magazine uses a simplified traffic light system. According to Spiked, ‘Red’ shows that a university “has banned and actively censored ideas on campus” and ‘Green’ being a university with a “hands-off approach to free speech”. An ‘Amber’ ranking falls inbetween showing the universities which have “chilled free speech through intervention”.

For Lancaster, news isn’t all bad. Only the Union was ranked ‘Red’ but the Institution, which refers to the university administration, was only ranked ‘Amber’.

The figures released show there has been a huge increase in universities ranked as ‘Red’ from 41 percent in 2014/15 to 55 percent in 2015/16. The study shows that it is the Student Union’s which are most likely to censor speech or place bans, only 15 percent of institutions are ranked as ‘Red’ compared with a huge 62 percent of Student Union’s.

LUSU Full-time and Cross Campus Officers spoke to SCAN regarding the controversial report written by spiked earlier in the month.

Katie Capstick, LUSU VP Campaigns and Communications, said that the report doesn’t seem reliable and questioned the categories that the magazine use to gain their results. She told SCAN that she feels that free speech isn’t represented correctly in the report: “I don’t think telling someone not to say something racist, sexist, transphobic etc. is going against freedom of speech, it is saying ‘no you shouldn’t be targeting people because of their identity’, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request”.

Victor Ortiz, CCO Media & Communications, feels that the article and the results from Spiked magazine are not an accurate representation of the university. Ortiz understands that the university and union have policies in place to protect people.

He told SCAN: “There are obvious cases where free speech that directly offends particular groups of people, the censoring has to be done by the union, and depending on the extent to an offence, I believe the university is likely to get involved”.

Capstick agrees that it isn’t always as straight forward as it seems however. She told SCAN that “there’s a struggle” happening between those who feel that they are being censored and those who are apparently doing the censoring.

Other Officers agreed with Capstick’s overall opinion on the matter. Anna Lee, LUSU VP Welfare, spoke to SCAN saying that “the spiked article in itself is there to put forward an agenda, it was straight forward attempts to create hype and attention towards the spiked media and to go ‘oh my god, freedom of speech is being limited’ which it isn’t at all”.

When asked whether she felt that the Union or the University were doing the majority of censoring Lee replied: “white-cis-het men do the most”. Madeline Burns, CCO LGBTQ, explained: “The fact is it’s not the Union who’s actually censoring people it’s the cis-het-white men who kind of dominate their opinions, who are censoring people.

“By saying things like ‘you’re censoring us’ if that’s what they are saying they are further censoring the people who want to liberate people.”

The officers also spoke to SCAN about how free speech at universities has changed over the years and said that there has been a shift on both sides of the argument more recently. Lee said that the outward spoken-ness of people has increased but also mentioned that “the number of people who are vocalising bigotry has increased dramatically”.

She continued: “the number of people who will proudly proclaim horrendously bigoted views and then just play the free speech card immediately has increased to the point where it is ridiculous”.

Laura Brown, CCO Women’s Liberation, realises that there is always going to be different sides to every story and told SCAN: “You’re always going to get those extremes and they’re always going to clash and I guess it is that you have just got to educate people”

Capstick also feels that there is a lack of education on certain historical matters which are usually the reasons for the interventions which occur. Capstick knows that there is more education on these matters but said that the problem is “that the bigotry is also louder so it’s kind of it’s a more exaggerated version of what it was before”.

Lee also told SCAN that “the ambition is to have zero interventions, it’s to talk to people and educate people such that there is never the need to intervene ever, and that once we get to that stage (…) we will have got to a point which will probably have dramatically changed culture on campus.”

“Sadly policy-wise we don’t have strong policies on limiting hate speech on campus. I would love to see stronger stances.”

Capstick agreed that the aim was to have no interventions and added: “I’m really struggling to understand how telling someone to not run a racist event or whatever it might be that we’re censoring them”. There was a general consensus from the Officers that the union and it’s choices to intervene in events was acceptable and necessary.

Ortiz also agreed that the censoring is valid and told SCAN that he unaware of any reason why the censorship that was occurring would be inappropriate. He also continued to say that as a second year he hasn’t witnessed much censorship on campus and feels that for this reason the ranking of Lancaster as ‘Red’ is “an inappropriate and inaccurate evaluation”.