University of Bath ‘creates a chilling environment’ for freedom of speech

The University of Bath and the University of Bath Students’ Union “collectively create a chilling environment for freedom of speech”, a new report concludes.

In its Free Speech University Rankings, online magazine Spiked issued the University of Bath with an ‘amber’ rank, the middle grade available, but in turn marked the Students’ Union as ‘green’, which means that there are no restrictions on free speech.

One student raises his pen in solidarity with the murdered journalists
A student raises his pen in support of freedom of speech following the Charlie Hebdo attacks

 The University of Bath was criticised for three policies, including the ‘Statement on Trans Equality’ which was issued in September 2014.

The statement claims that ‘transphobic propaganda’ in any form ‘will not be tolerated’, and that any materials would be immediately removed whenever it appears on the University premises.

University of Bath Students’ Union Community & Welfare Officer said on the policy, “This ranking is incredibly misleading.”

“It acts as if protecting Trans people is wrong and that people wanting to feel protected from hate speech is somehow less important then being able to say and do whatever you want. I for one am glad that our university wants to protect its Trans students.”

Also highlighted was the University’s Freedom of Expression guidelines, which requests two week notice for ‘controversial’ meetings, and the Dignity and Respect policy, which states that unacceptable behaviour includes ‘displaying offensive materials’ including ‘name calling, ridicule [and] insults

Although the University of Bath scored a less than perfect score, the institution fared better than Bath Spa, which was rated in the bottom four in the country earning a ‘red’ grade.

Bath Spa was criticised for a number of policies including the banning Robin Thicke’s controversial song Blurred Lines last year. Bath Spa University is now reviewing its policies.

University of Bath Students’ Union President Jordan Kenny told bathimpact, “Both our University and Students’ Union work hard to defend freedom of speech. To imply, however, that protecting our most vulnerable students from heinous abuse is a ‘chilling’ violation of free speech is wrong.”

The report concluded that 80% of universities rated have either restricted or actively censored free speech and expression on campus beyond the requirements of the law. The report grades university administrations and students’ unions with green, amber or red marks based on an assessment of their policies and actions, before giving an overall ranking based on the two combined.

The University of Bath’s Professor Bill Durodié, an expert on causes and perceptions of security risk, told the Guardian, “Real freedom of expression can hurt. That’s the price we pay. Is fostering empathy with other people’s feelings valuable? One hundred percent yes. Should it direct everything you do? No.”


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