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Save freedom of expression: British education minister wants to take action against censorship at universities

Left-wing censorship fanatics are attacking free speech

The anarchists of yore are the totalitarian censors of today. Leftist academics and student groups in particular want to withdraw the platform for dissenting opinions. Now the British education minister wants to save and protect freedom of expression with a law.

In the 1960s and 1970s, especially left-wing students in America and Europe had fought for more freedom of expression and speech around the world. They resisted censorship and strict conditions. A breath of anarchism wafted through the universities.

Today it’s the other way around. The leftist anarchists of yore are the totalitarian censors of today. More and more academics feel restricted in their freedom of speech and expression. They complain about too much censorship and intimidation, not only on the part of the universities, but also by left-wing student groups who do not want to offer platforms for dissenting opinions (“cancel culture”). There is an atmosphere of censorship and denunciation. The compulsion to self-censor and excessive political correctness silences any open debate.

Now the British education minister Gavin Williamson declared his plans to ensure freedom of expression and speech at British universities by means of regulations and laws. In his view, it is unacceptable that dissenting opinions should be discriminated against.

The (often left-wing) university management reacted with skepticism because they did not want to aknowledge that a problem exists. And leftist student groups are rebelling against the project. Because they do not want to give certain opinions a platform; instead they want to ban them from the universities altogether.

English universities in particular were known worldwide for their open and lively culture of debate. But for at least two decades the air for open discussions has been getting thinner and thinner. Even renowned scientists are subject to sanctions for allegedly politically incorrect statements.

The UK government therefore plans to appoint a “free speech advocate” for universities. The aim is to protect scientists and speakers with unpopular views from attempts to silence them.  Minister Williamson said on Tuesday that he was deeply concerned about “the deterrent effect” of censorship on campus.

The new “free speech champion” would investigate allegations of violations of freedom of speech, such as the dismissal of lecturers or so-called “no platforming”, the exclusion of invited speakers from platforms such as social networks and speaking spaces.

The Conservative government also wants to authorize a regulatory body, the Student Office, to impose penalties on universities that violate a requirement to support free speech. Scientists and lecturers who have been excluded, dismissed or demoted because of their views and others could seek compensation in court under the government’s plans.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the initiative against critics. Freedom of speech is a “heart of our democracy,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. It is “absolutely right that our great universities – the historical centers of free thought – this freedom should now be strengthened and protected”.

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