Free Speech Through Censorship.

The University of Lincoln is a school of about 13,000 undergraduate and post-graduate students in the City of Lincoln, England. The school can trace its origins back to 1861 where several schools in the area were founded. Those schools eventually joined together in 1976 and became the Hull College of Higher Education. Even more schools were added or absorbed into the umbrella of the school’s name and after building a new campus in 2001, the school officially became the University of Lincoln.

This month, the University was given a “red light” status in a report issued by an online publication called Spiked.

The University of Lincoln and the University of Lincoln Students’ Union collectively create an environment that is hostile to free speech. The university, which has maintained its Amber ranking, restricts ‘offensive’ speech. The students’ union, which has maintained its Red ranking, has a No Platform policy, banning racists and fascists; an Equal Opportunities policy, restricting offensive speech; and a Safe Space policy, which means controversial speakers can be ejected if any complaint is made against them. It has also banned the social-media app YikYak. The institution’s overall ranking remains Red.

(It is interesting to note that the University received an “amber” grade in 2015, a “red” grade in 2016, and an even stronger “red” grade in 2017. When it comes to free speech, the University of Lincoln is going the wrong direction.)

The University of Lincoln Conservative Society tweeted the results of the Spiked report.

For their tweet, the Conservative Society was forced to turn over access to all social media accounts to the Student Union. According to Spiked, the group’s access was taken away for “bring[ing] the University of Lincoln Students’ Union and the University of Lincoln into disrepute.” The Conservative Society released a statement, saying in part:

On the 6th March 2017, the University of Lincoln Conservative Society, in compliance with a decision by the Student Union (SU) disciplinary panel, handed over control of all social media accounts to the University of Lincoln Students Union, with the accounts to be suspended until the 1st of May 2017.

“This decision was reached by the SU following an anonymous complaint over two tweets by the society account. The first, in relation to freedom of speech, linking an article from ‘Spiked’ and the second was in relation to an SU questionnaire that had to be completed before voting in recent SU elections.

The second tweet mentioned was a tweet on a questionnaire that which had been sent out to students and had to be completed before they could vote in the Student Union elections. The Conservative Society had wondered whether some mandatory questions were on the survey:

(What Spice Girl one would be doesn’t seem to have any relevance to whether one should be able to vote or ones opinion on actual issues, so we can’t figure out why the questions were mandatory either.)

The Student Union did not like the idea of the Conservative Society noting the lack of commitment by the Student Union to free speech and pointing out the silliness of the questions in order to vote.

For those tweets, the Conservative Society’s access to social media was suspended.

The Student Union issued its own statement on the matter:

Freedom of speech is a fundamental value of the Students’ Union. The SU is built on a foundation where students can express opinions and ideas freely within the law.

The Students’ Union is run by students for students. There are agreed policies in place – based on national guidance for charities – which protect students and aims to provide a safe environment in which complex issues can be discussed and debated.

At Lincoln, student engagement in political processes is high – the recent SU elections produced the highest turnout on record – and the Union provides many different ways for students to express their views and bring about change.

For obvious reasons, we cannot comment on live disciplinary matters concerning members of one of our clubs and societies however; we can confirm that due to a suspected breach of the code of conduct a request has been made that the Conservative Society temporarily suspend their social media account.

Though we are aware of some areas of concern regarding Freedom of Speech, we would like to reassure you that Lincoln SU shares the same values as the University of Lincoln in this respect.

The University of Lincoln Students’ Union is proud to protect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions, ideas, and concerns, and would emphasize that student welfare is at the heart of everything we do.

The irony of punishing a group for speaking out on an issue of free speech apparently was lost on the Student Union. Apparently the Student Union hierarchy didn’t like the idea of their suppression of speech that was contrary to their views being exposed. They didn’t like that the Conservative Union said the “emperors have no clothes.”

In short, the Student Union is all for “free speech,” as long as it is speech with which they agree and have approved. Anything else they will squash.

The Hull University Conservative Association took note of the suspension of the Lincoln University Conservative Union’s views:

Even a Member of Parliament has recognized the lunacy of this action by the Student Union:

On top of that, students at the University have decided to protest against the Student Union’s decision:

HI. I am a Politics and IR student and have had discussions with many people lately about the current ban on the Conservative Society’s right to critcise the SU on their Free-Speech policy. Discussions is key to resolving problems. Banning them and silencing their opinions, which matters as a ‘Student’s Unions’ that should be open eyes and open ears to all its student is an abomination. Make as much noise as you can, bring banners and make it clear to the SU we do not think that is OK practise.

We will be holding the sit-in protest between 1pm to 5pm on Friday (10th of March) inside the Engine Shed and let me reiterate this is a PEACEFUL protest so anyone who deems to cause damage and destruction will be not respected as part of this protest. Any Lincoln students, both present and old who feel strongly on this issue are welcome to join and the more people, the more powerful our message stands.

And now, the Student Union has backed off of the suspension:

After an appeal hearing this week, the University of Lincoln’s Students’ Union disciplinary panel has reinstated the Conservative Society’s access to its union-affiliated social media accounts.

We cannot provide details on the hearing other than to say that the original suspension related to a broader set of issues in addition to a breach of the social media code of conduct which the society signed as part of their membership.

It is important to remember that students run the Students’ Union and that this is a learning environment where boundaries can be tested and young people can take on responsibilities and make decisions in a safe environment. In this instance, only the disciplinary panel and the students involved know the full details of this case.

(Notice how there are now other issues that were not related previously by the Student Union? Maybe the Conservative Society was on “double secret probation.”)

The protest is still on which shows that the students still have concerns about the actions of the Student Union and rightfully so. This censorship should never have happened. You cannot say you are committed to “free speech” and then suppress or suspend those who disagree with you. Apparently, according to the Student Union, they have the right to make decisions that affect others in a “safe environment,” but those who disagree with them and voice their displeasure have no right to that same “safe environment” as well. After all, if the Student Union can come down on a group for expressing ideas that are contrary to the Student Union, that is hardly a “safe environment” for them. After all, what is “safe” about “if you don’t agree with us, we will punish you?”

As the MP says, this is Orwellian. The Student Union actually believes that in order to support free speech, they need to censor speech.

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