Are Swansea University and The Students’ Union Really Suppressing Free Speech?

Spiked-online, a libertarian news site, has released its second year of university free speech rankings.

Swansea University and its respective student’s union scored the highest ranking of Red for its restrictions on speech and expression, an increase from its 2015 rating of Amber. The site criticized the University for its Suppression of homophobic speech through its ‘Sexual Orientation Policy’, a policy aimed to ensure Lgbt+ students and staff members are not subject to discrimination and harassment on campus. The university was also marked down for its stance on sports initiations and it’s banning of a “cultish” religious group from university premises.
The Union fared worse with Spiked severely criticizing the union’s stance on pole fitness and the removal of lad’s magazines from union run commercial venues. The online site also criticized the union for its support of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement, though for unclear reasons.

The online site had this to say about Swansea University and the Union “Swansea University and Swansea University Students’ Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech. The university, which has moved to a red ranking, restricts homophobic speech and, last year, banned a religious group from campus. The students’ union, which has maintained its red ranking, has banned lads’ mags, a pole-dancing society and has backed the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. The institution’s overall ranking moves to red”.

The spiked analysis of Swansea’s free speech credentials is, unfortunately, critically flawed. There seems to be a severe lack of research done by the editorial team, as none of the issues listed occurred between the years of 2015-2016. There is, therefore, no basis for the increase in rating from Amber to Red. The university’s sexual orientation policy has been in place since 2012 and cannot be used as evidence of a movement to restrict university speech for the years of 2015 and 2016. The bans listed for the student’s union occurred in 2013 and 2014 respectively and in the case of the pole fitness society, was reversed after a few weeks.

The University were contacted to comment on the rankings but did not reply. A spokesperson from Swansea Student’s Union had this to say “As a union we are a democratic organisation, any actions carried out by the union are voted on by students. Students are welcome to voice any concerns at one of our student forums or directly to our elected officers.”