Britain May Fine Universities That Limit Free Speech

January 2, 2018

Britain plans to create a new government office that will have the authority to fine universities that do not uphold principles of free speech. In a speech Dec. 26, Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that universities "should be places that open minds, not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged and prejudices exposed. But in universities in America and increasingly in the United Kingdom, there are countervailing forces of censorship, where groups have sought to stifle those who do not agree with them in every way under the banner of ‘safe spaces’ or ‘no-platforming.’ However well intentioned, the proliferation of such safe spaces, the rise of no-platforming, the removal of ‘offensive’ books from libraries and the drawing up of ever more extensive lists of banned ‘trigger’ words are undermining the principle of free speech in our universities."

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents British universities, issued this statement: “Universities are absolutely committed to promoting and securing free speech and will not allow legitimate speech to be stifled. There is already a legal duty on the higher education sector to secure free speech within the law and universities take these responsibilities very seriously. They have a duty, not only to secure freedom of speech, but also to protect the safety of students and staff."

Britain's National Union of Students has endorsed bans on certain figures or groups speaking on campuses, and some supporters of that policy are taking to social media to defend that approach, even as many others are praising Johnson.

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