OPINION: The erosion of free speech on campus

Canterbury Christ Church student, Jacob Lynch, shares his views on the erosion of free speech at university campuses…

You don’t need to look more than a few years back to see that universities were once the epicentre of free speech, open inquiry and intellectual diversity.

Looking at the current state of these alleged centres of higher education, you’d be forgiven for expecting the same rang true now. However, across the UK, and around the world more generally, it is becoming increasingly evident that universities are bending to the contemporary whims of the perpetually outraged.

The issue of ‘no-platforming’ speakers is a phenomenon relatively new to academia. Whereas university was once a battleground in which ideas were pitted in a respectful, articulate and intellectually honest way – it would seem that mob rule is the order of the day.

In 2016, Peter Tatchell, one of Britain’s most prominent civil rights campaigners and a 30 year veteran of LGBT+ rights, was due to give a speech at Canterbury Christ Church University alongside other activists, including Fran Cowling, the LGBT+ officer for the NUS. What followed was a no-platforming attempt followed by accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘transphobia’ by Cowling, who eventually pulled out of the event. Tatchell strongly denounced these claims, and no evidence of either charge was ever brought forward.

Jacob Lynch said: “If you’re unable to speak freely on a university campus, might I ask where you can?”

I suppose that, in a broader sense, I am arguing for the return of spirited debate and against the continuous suppression or exclusion of differing opinions. Universities are increasingly running the risk of becoming ideological echo chambers in which faculty and students alike all sing the same chorus and mutually reaffirm their own talking points. If you’re unable to speak freely on a university campus, might I ask where you can? If anything, university was, up until very recently, the only place you could speak freely.

That’s not to say that one’s words are without consequence, of course. But sunlight is the best disinfectant for bad ideas. We are students, but we’re also sculptors of the future of our society. So let us be diverse, and let us be inclusive. But let us also be willing to hear things we don’t like, and to strengthen our own arguments whilst we debunk those of others.

Without the ability to potentially offend, we don’t have the right to think, or speak. Anybody can take offence at anything, but it is up to the offended to reconcile and not the society around them.

Silencing an opposing viewpoint doesn’t mean you win the debate, it means you were too intellectually disingenuous to have it in the first place.

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