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Government attacks on free speech and academic practice at unis. Watch

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    Am I the only one who's very strongly concerned at how the Government since 2010 has been implementing some rather authoritarian measures to curtail free speech in our universities?

    First we had the "Prevent Strategy" which is, well, effectively preventing universities, student unions and societies from hosting external speakers with the 'wrong' opinions: speeches are banned unless someone with opposing views can be found to directly challenge them at the same time and place, risk assessments and background checks take place, and a lengthy period of notice is given. This applies to speakers convicted of no crime so long as they are "extremists", with the definition being:

    "The vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist."

    So some statements that might see you labelled as an "extremist" could be:

    "Organised religion serves to divide people and has always led to conflict - it has no place in modern society and we should not sanction public worship"
    "Democracy has failed to lead to governments acting in the interests of the people, and should be replaced by a system of "demarchy" where representatives are randomly selected"
    "In cases where the law is unjust, such as in Saudi Arabia where women and homosexuals are denied many fundamental rights, it is morally acceptable to act in defiance of it"

    Note that you don't actually even have to argue any of these points to be banned. You just need to have said the "wrong" thing at some stage in the past to be effectively blacklisted and silenced. It's official - the Government is seeking to impose restrictions on the speech of all students even stricter than TSR's moderation standards! Maybe they'll soon have to be toughened up in case TSR induces someone to become a terrorist.

    This also applies to students as well as external speakers, even when making academic arguments as part of their course. Stating an 'extreme' opinion in a seminar, research paper or exam answer can now mean that the university is forced to refer you on as a potential terrorist. This has huge implications for academic debate - for instance, how could you possibly have a coherant argument around the Easter Rising of 1916, as we come up to 100 years since it happened, without one side not being completely opposed to the actions of the IRA and suggesting they were at least in some way justifiable or understandable - a form of speech that would now be categorised as 'extremist' support for a terrorist organisation? It effectively bans discourse over entire areas of history.

    I'd hope that we'd move away from this, but in recent days the Government has instead bought in new measures that seek to CRIMINALISE student unions who boycott products they see as unethical. These bodies are run by and for students and have a duty to represent them, but are now going to be forced to promote and sell products they have a moral opposition to. This could include products produced in states which abuse human rights, tobabacco products which carry a severe risk to health, and newspapers including pornographic content. This policy seems completely incompatible with the concept of free commerce and sets a dangerous precedent where the government dictates things that must be sold - why on Earth should a union be forced to promote things its own members deem abhorrent?

    For me this strain of creeping authortarianism is extremely worrying and represents a threat not only to free speech and minority opinions, but the reputation of Britain's universities as a place where academia and controversial ideas are celebrated, challenged, and discussed openly. Is it time to stop infantalising students and prevent Prevent?
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    People do seem to take freedom of speech for granted. People seem to have forgotten what free speech is, free speech si the right to say anything without facing reprocussions, sure you can be debated, but you cannot be punished. Free speech gives you the right to insult, offend, argue, annoy anyone without facing any punishment, and we don;t have that in the UK, so how do we have freedom of speech?
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    (Original post by balanced)
    People do seem to take freedom of speech for granted. People seem to have forgotten what free speech is, free speech si the right to say anything without facing reprocussions, sure you can be debated, but you cannot be punished. Free speech gives you the right to insult, offend, argue, annoy anyone without facing any punishment, and we don;t have that in the UK, so how do we have freedom of speech?
    Unfortunately we don't, but it's time that changed. I can understand some of the early anti-hate legislation which was designed to stop people harrassing and insulting others in public who had no interest in a debate and could quite reasonably feel unsafe or threatened - but that's completely different to the culture we have now where even in universities entire ideas are effectively illegal.
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    Quite frankly, universities (student unions in particular) deserve it with their no-platforming, safe spaces, etc.
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    (Original post by Saoirse:3)
    Unfortunately we don't, but it's time that changed. I can understand some of the early anti-hate legislation which was designed to stop people harrassing and insulting others in public who had no interest in a debate and could quite reasonably feel unsafe or threatened - but that's completely different to the culture we have now where even in universities entire ideas are effectively illegal.
    i think you underestimate just how hard it is to draw a line on freedom of speech. The line between what is offensive or damaging and what is freedom of thought and speech is incredibly blurry. Governments walk an incredibly fine line. Especially when dealing with ideas around terrorism and attempting to stop radicalization. It becomes even harder when you have a very vocal minority on either side agitating for restrictions. I was a mod on here for awhile and a huge chunk of my time was spent debating these ideas and concerns and how they applied to the forum, trying to do that on a national scale with a myriad of other concerns is incredibly difficult.
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    So student unions - who no platform people all the time - are probably the biggest haters of free speech in the western world and you're whining about stuff like Prevent, designed to get a handle on promotion of terrorism.

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    (Original post by KimKallstrom)
    So student unions - who no platform people all the time - are probably the biggest haters of free speech in the western world and you're whining about stuff like Prevent, designed to get a handle on promotion of terrorism.

    Strong.
    This, this, this, this.
 
 
 
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