New ‘blacklist’ for censorious universities
Should no-platforming be banned? Yesterday a white nationalist gave a speech at a Florida college while the UK government announced clampdowns on universities that stop people from speaking.
It has been called “authoritarian liberalism”.
Yesterday the British government announced that universities must pledge to uphold free speech or face being fined or even deregistered by the new Office for Students.
“Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another,” said universities minister Jo Johnson.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, alt-right leader Richard Spencer gave a speech at the University of Florida under high security.
Spencer wants the United States to become a white ethno-state. He is unsure that giving women the vote was such a good idea. He organised the infamous Charlottesville rally where his supporters chanted “You will not replace us” and a counter-protester was killed.
On Monday, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the county where the university is located, as speeches by controversial figures had met with violence in the past.
The university’s president condemned Spencer’s views, but said that America’s free speech laws meant that he could not stop him from renting a venue for the event, despite the university’s $500,000 security bill.
Refusing to allow certain people to speak is known as “no-platforming”. The issue has become a central focus of a culture war, with “generation snowflake” - the supposedly censorious millennials - facing off against those who believe that listening to controversial opinions is crucial to expanding one’s outlook.
Mostly, it is right-wing speakers who are barred. When anti-feminist provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak at the University of Berkeley, over 1,500 people gathered to protest. Some attacked the police, threw molotov cocktails and set fire to dustbins. King’s College, London no-platformed Boris Johnson after comments he made about Barack Obama in 2016.
But the feminist Germaine Greer was banned by Cardiff University because she does not regard transgender women as women.
Should governments step in to clamp down on this trend?
Agree to disagree
“Students are the new masters – and the result is campus tyranny,” writes Brendan O’Neill in The Spectator. Universities exist to expand the mind, not limit it. Free speech is a cornerstone of both British and American values, and if universities are failing to uphold it, it should be the government’s job to make sure they do.
Opponents of this note the irony of governments essentially forcing free institutions to be liberal. People can always read the books or watch the videos of banned speakers. No-platforming is simply about making students feel safe and comfortable. And do we really need to hear the views of people like Richard Spencer?
- Should governments punish universities which ban people from speaking?
- Is the perception of “generation snowflake” correct?
- Class debate: “This house believes there should be no limits on freedom of speech.”
- Draw up your own code of ethics for universities on the subject of free speech.
Some People Say...
“You cannot give offence; you can only take it.”
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Q & A
- What do we know?
- The British government has announced that universities will be punished if they do not uphold freedom of speech. The last five years have seen dozens of controversial speakers banned from speaking on campuses. This debate has also raged in America, where yesterday white nationalist Richard Spencer gave a controversial speech at the University of Florida.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the British government’s policy will work. Critics argue that the people being punished are administrators, vice-chancellors and ordinary students — not only the students who decide to ban people from speaking. Writing in the New Statesman, Stephen Bush argues that it gives the impression that the Conservative Party are waging war on the young.
- Richard Spencer
- Although Spencer is frequently described as a “white supremacist” in the media, he calls himself a “white nationalist”. The difference is that a white supremacist wants to rule over other races, while white nationalists campaign for racial separation.
- Charlottesville rally
- The “Unite the Right” rally’s goal was to oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
- State of emergency
- This measure states that: “It is a process that enables various law enforcement agencies to work together more efficiently. For example, agencies from multiple jurisdictions can be mobilised, if necessary, without bureaucratic delays.”
- Comments he made about Barack Obama
- After Obama came to the UK to give a speech about Brexit, Johnson suggested that Obama’s supposed antipathy towards the UK was a result of colonial resentment stemming from his Kenyan ancestry. Many saw the claim as racist.