The 800-year-old institution was placed in the worst group for free speech in a new ranking drawn up by the think-tank Civitas
Cambridge University has plunged into the “red” category for free speech following instances of “no platforming” and the rise of “cancel culture”, according to a new ranking.
The 800-year-old institution was placed in the worst group for free speech by the think-tank Civitas which analysed university policies as well as events and actions on campus over the last three years.
Researchers cited dozens of examples of “general controversies” pertaining to free speech as well as petitions and open letters and instances of speakers being uninvited.
They noted an instance earlier this year where Gonville and Caius, one of the university’s oldest colleges, announced its intention to remove a commemorative window to the eugenicist Sir Ronald Fisher following a student campaign.
Students had petitioned the College to remove the memorial window dedicated to Sir Fisher, who was a fellow and later president at Gonville and Caius. He died in 1962.
They also cited a survey which found that nearly a third of university staff said they have experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace.
A previous free speech ranking for universities, carried out by the online magazine Spiked in 2018 using slightly different metrics, placed Cambridge in the “amber” category. Oxford was also placed in the red category by Civitas, having previously been placed in this category by Spiked.
Overall, Civitas placed 35 per cent of universities in the “red” group while the majority (51 per cent) were in the “amber” group and just 14 per cent were in the “green” group.
Researchers found that speech “could be curbed by perceived transphobic episodes” in close to two thirds of red universities and just under half of green universities.
They also noted that curbs to free speech due to external pressure groups occurred in a third of red universities and a fifth of amber universities.
Curbs on free speech due to a “cancel culture” of open letters and or petitions are particularly prevalent, they said, adding that this had occurred in 69 per cent of red universities and 48 per cent of amber.
The report found that just under a fifth of red and amber universities had cases of speakers being uninvited or no-platformed.
Earlier this month, Cambridge University dons prevailed in a free speech row after voting down an attempt by university chiefs to force them to be “respectful of the diverse identities of others”.
Three amendments, put forward by academics who said they wanted to safeguard free speech, were voted through on Wednesday night, leading the rebel dons to claim they had “won by a landslide”.
Cambridge University’s Council proposed a series of updates to free speech rules earlier this year, but academics have argued that the changes are “authoritarian”.
Critics said the changes were “no doubt meant well” but the vague nature of their wording meant that they could be used to undermine academics’ freedom of speech rather than protect it.
A group of academics managed to force a ballot on a series of amendments including that the phrase “respectful of” is replaced with “tolerate”.
A Cambridge University spokesman said that “freedom of speech is a right that sits at the heart” of the institution.
“Rigorous debate is fundamental to the pursuit of academic excellence and the University will always be a place where freedom of speech is not only protected, but strongly encouraged,” they added.
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