ELISABETH MAHASE

NEWS -ELISABETH MAHASE-Free Speech-CREDIT-www.spiked-online.com 1Brunel University and UBS 'collectively create a hostile environment for free speech and expression' according to online magazine Spiked, as part of their free speech university rankings.

'Banned and actively censored ideas on campus.'

The red ranking, received by Brunel, is for universities which have 'banned and actively censored ideas on campus.'

The university was noted for restricting 'offensive' speech and printed materials through its dignity, leafleting and social-media policies. Within the Dignity at Study Policy, references to bullying and harassment include restrictions on 'displaying or distributing offensive posters, photos, jokes or e-mails.' The magazine also refers to the university's social media guidance which states 'entitlement of freedom of speech within the law' but then goes on to recommend that student's avoid 'communications that would defame the university' or 'damage the reputation.' The overall inclination of the university is to avoid negative representation and limit harassment; resulting in their amber grade, 'chilled free speech through intervention.'

Comparatively, UBS scored red through its zero tolerance policy and stance on Social Events, Initiations and Alcohol. The zero tolerance policy outlines antisocial behaviour as: a person’s words or actions that 'cause alarm, harassment or distress' and threatens to bring serious consequences: 'details will be passed to the police... enforce a follow up visit and may issue a fixed penalty fine' which would remain on the police database. Such behaviour would also result in a ban from UBS venues.

But who makes that judgement?

In light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the paper's martyr 'the right to blaspheme' it is clear that expression is subjective to the receiver and therefore so is the appropriate response. This raises the question: who makes that judgement?

The union also holds a no platform policy, which means they must approve any invited speaker.

This was seen in action in 2012 when Abu Usamah Adh Dhahabi was invited to speak at Legend's week by the Islamic Society. Abu Usamah had previously been stopped from speaking at UCL on two occasions and had appeared on Channel 4 dispatches where he was seen making hateful comments towards women and homosexuals. However, there was controversy over the editing process of the programme.

At the time the university had this to say, “The talk is going ahead as we have a legal duty to protect freedom of speech and we have asked for assurances from the Union of Brunel Students that this person will not breach the policies of the university, such as those on equality and diversity.”

One of the most notable actions by UBS highlighted in the ranking was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions 'against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights' (BDS). Last term this motion was passed during student assembly, with UBS mandating public support for BDS. This was a controversial move that has since been paused by the union while it is reviewed with the university.

The article finishes by stating that the overall ranking of Brunel's free speech was marked red due to 'the students' union's policies and actions.' Other universities such as UCL and Warwick also received similar feedback, with the student unions labelled more restrictive than their universities.