FSUR: fuelling the free-speech fightback
Our Free Speech University Rankings continues to make waves.
In the three years since we launched the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) – our groundbreaking annual analysis of campus censorship – it has fast established itself as the go-to source for those wanting an insight into campus madness. It’s now two months since we released our 2017 results, which showed that a shocking 63.5 per cent of universities severely restrict speech, and the results continue to make waves.
The FSUR 2017 was covered in The Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Independent, the Times Higher Education and the Huffington Post. Our team discussed the findings on BBC Radio, LBC, TALKRadio and Sky News. And it was reported on in regional and student papers across the country. Read a news report about campus censorship today, and the FSUR will no doubt get a mention.
This year, we were picked up stateside, too. Fox News published a report on the FSUR, comparing UK campus censorship with the situation across the pond. spiked’s Tom Slater told Fox that UK universities are ‘restricting discussion of religion, transgenderism, offensive Halloween costumes — you name it’. Greg Lukianoff, CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Fox: ‘Britain is in a dead sprint trying to catch up to American universities, and the problem is that [the US] is protected by the First Amendment and they’re not.’
Back in the UK, we continue to set the agenda. Earlier this month, the BBC’s Daily Politics spoke to FSUR researcher and free-speech campaigner Emily Dinsmore, who protested against Queen Mary’s tabloid ban. ‘Why shouldn’t students be able to purchase [tabloids] on campus and discuss the ideas and challenge them if they don’t like them?’, she said. Then host Andrew Neil discussed our findings with columnist Rod Liddle and author Kaite Welsh, and grilled Welsh over her support for Safe Spaces: ‘What’s the point of a university if you don’t allow a variety of views to be expressed?’
But the FSUR has also provoked a backlash from students’ unions and university administrations. This year, the UK National Union of Students (NUS) claimed the FSUR was a ‘storm in a teacup’. ‘What is all the fuss about?’, asked NUS president Malia Bouattia on the Huffington Post. ‘The narrative on university Safe Spaces and No Platform policies couldn’t be further from the truth.’ She even proclaimed the NUS the ‘true champions of liberty’. ‘What a joke’, wrote spiked’s Naomi Firsht, in a response blog on the Huffington Post. ‘Bouattia complains student leaders are being accused of “closing our ears and shutting out the world”, but that is exactly what they are doing.’
Sadly for Bouattia, recent events on campus have shown just how disingenuous the NUS position on our rankings is. Last month, the University of Lincoln’s student conservative society was banned from using its social-media accounts after it shared Lincoln’s Red FSUR ranking on Twitter, accompanied by some zip-mouthed emojis. That’s right: the students’ union decided to impose a ban on the society because it highlighted the fact that the students’ union was too ban-happy. The story was covered across the national media.
This is why spiked set up the FSUR in the first place. It’s not just a piece of research, it’s a tool. Not only do we want to draw attention to the denigration of free speech on campus – we also want to give students and academics the information they need to take the campus censors to task. Whether you’re an academic, student, or an SU officer who’s seen the light, get involved – contact the FSUR team to find out more.
Ella Whelan is assistant editor at spiked and coordinator of the Free Speech University Rankings.