by Amy Beveridge and Ross Brannigan
The University of Stirling has been given a red ranking in the Free Speech University Rankings for 2017.
These rankings survey free speech in British universities, examining the policies and actions of universities and students’ unions, and rank them using their traffic-light system.
This traffic light system ranks universities as red for “banning and actively censoring ideas on campus”; amber for “chilled free speech through intervention”; or green for “a hands-off approach to free speech”.
The university has been given this status for reasons including that it “restricts offensive language, patronising comments and offensive posters and publications” and “bans racists and fascists”.
It is one of six universities in Scotland to be given this status. The university received an amber rating, whilst the Union received a red.
Calum Williamson, leading member of the university’s Libertarian Society – which holds to traditional liberal values such as life, liberty and property – said: “It’s obviously disappointing to see the University of Stirling have such a poor ranking with regards to free speech.
“Universities have, historically, been institutions where freedom of speech has been held sacred and we are, according to this analysis of campus censorship at least, seeing a swing towards further censorship.
“Seventeen universities gained a higher level of censorship, compared with three moving towards less censorship, since last years analysis. Now, of course, this analysis isn’t put through the rigours of peer review, but it would be safe to assume that there is very much merit to what they have found. You only have to look at the recent riots at Berkeley to find a real life example of campus censorship.”
Williamson added the censoring of ideas and ‘no platforming’ is “fundamentally wrong”, and said the Libertarians will be meeting to discuss how to change this apparent trend.
According to the survey, the university received an amber rating due to its policies on bullying and harassment, room bookings and ordinances.
On the subject of harassment it said this rating was due to the university defining harassment as “‘displaying offensive material’, ‘sarcasm’, ‘patronising comments’ and ‘jokes, ridicule or derogatory comments relating to particular equality characteristics’”.
A University of Stirling spokesperson said: “The university is committed to creating and sustaining a positive, stimulating and supportive working environment for our staff, and an excellent teaching and learning experience which encourages our students to thrive academically and personally.
“We aim to work with our diverse community in a wholly-positive way, to embed respect, equity, and inclusion – and we value and uphold the principles of academic freedom, as well as students’ rights to freedom of speech and expression.
“At Stirling, we are committed to the free exchange of ideas; however, it is important to recognise all universities have a fundamental legal obligation to secure the safety of staff and students.”
The Union’s ‘No Platform’ policy faired ill in the rankings, awarding them a red card.
Glasgow Caledonian University, Robert Gordon University and UWS are the only Scottish universities to have been ranked as green for free speech.
The University of Stirling Students’ Union has been approached for comment.