The University of Liverpool and the Liverpool Guild of Students have both been classified as ‘Amber’ in online magazine Spiked’s 2016 Free Speech University Rankings.
The announcement comes just days after both bodies de-ratified the university medical society, the LMSS. No mention of that decision is made in the online guide, though the 2014 suspension of the society in the wake of the infamous ‘Smokergate’ incident is included as a contributing factor. The LMSS have not commented on the result.
This is the second year that Spiked has published these rankings, and it describes the University and the Guild as having ‘collectively create[d] an atmosphere that chills free speech’. Overall its findings suggest a rise in censorship across UK campuses; it claims that 90% of Universities and Unions are guilty of it, a rise from 80% in 2015. Institutions labelled ‘Red’ – responsible for the highest levels of censorship – have risen in number considerably, from 41% of the total to 55% in the space of a year.
This comes in the wake of a series of high profile examples of conflict over freedom of expression in higher education, both in the UK and abroad. These include the decision by the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union to ban the feminist Julie Bindel and Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus, a similar attempt by Cardiff Students’ Union to ban author Germaine Greer from their campus, and the current furore surrounding the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign at Oriol College, Oxford. All three universities have been rated Red, as has Liverpool John Moores University.
The rankings, which are also carried on the front page of The Times, highlight the Guild’s ‘Call it Out’ campaign against sexual harassment on campus, as well as the decision, passed via ‘preferendum’, to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), leading to the Guild remaining at its ‘Amber’ ranking from last year. The University itself also remains at Amber thanks to its ‘Dignity at Work and Study’ policy, which prohibits ‘offensive or abusive personal remarks’ as well as ‘offensive literature’. Neither the University nor the Guild have commented on the results.