Universities must halt student censorship culture, top academics say

The UEA has been in the headlines after it's Student Union banned sombreros and called off an event

The UEA has been in the headlines after it's Student Union banned sombreros and called off an event with a Ukip speaker. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2008

Universities are interfering with free speech by banning anything that causes the least offence, according to a group of leading academics.

A letter to The Daily Telegraph from academics, led by Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Canterbury, said few things were safe from student censors.

The 'deeply worrying development' is curtailing freedom of speech 'like never before', they say.

Because universities increasingly see fee-paying students as customers, they do not dare to stand up to the 'small but vocal minority' of student activists who want to ban everything from the Sun newspaper to the historian David Starkey.

The University of East Anglia has been in the headlines for banning sombreros at a Freshers' Fair for fear of offending Mexican people.

UEA students also protested against a Norwich Ukip politician speaking at campus in 2014.

The letter to the Daily Telegraph says: 'Few academics challenge censorship that emerges from students. It is important that more do, because a culture that restricts the free exchange of ideas encourages self-censorship and leaves people afraid to express their views in case they may be misinterpreted. This risks destroying the very fabric of democracy.

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'An open and democratic society requires people to have the courage to argue against ideas they disagree with or even find offensive. At the moment there is a real risk that students are not given opportunities to engage in such debate.

'A generation of students is being denied the opportunity to test their opinions against the views of those they don't agree with.'

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They call on vice-chancellors to take a 'much stronger stance' against all forms of censorship, and conclude that 'students who are offended by opposing views are perhaps not yet ready to be at university'.

The newspaper says students have recently banned, cancelled or challenged a host of speakers and objects because some found them offensive.

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