Weak governments control public speech because they are fearful.
Gavin Williamson’s paper Higher education: free speech and academic freedom includes policy proposals to advance the inculcation of conservative free-racketeering philosophy at universities and to restrict radical politics.
A Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion (FSAFC), appointed by the government, will work with the government’s falsely named Office For Students (OfS) and will “have a particular focus on monitoring whether higher education providers (HEPs) are meeting the freedom of speech and academic freedom aspects of the registration requirements and in championing them publicly as well as having a role in ensuring that individuals whose freedom of speech has been unlawfully suppressed within a higher education context are able to secure redress.”
FSAFC will assume some of the powers of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). “Student complaints which are exclusively about free speech and academic freedom would be considered by the FSAFC” rather than OIA as they are at present.
KEY POINT: The OIA is a registered charity with an independent board that includes representatives from the National Union of Students. OfS members and FSAFC are political appointments by the Tories.
On the issue of “redress” FSAFC will be “able to consider and recommend redress for free speech concerns for visiting speakers.”
KEY POINT: A “visiting speaker” will be able to seek “redress” if unable to speak at a HEP. That means anyone could persuade (or pay) a politically amenable student to “invite” them to speak. The most politically extreme people will be able to demand a platform accompanied by a threat to demand “redress” if declined. A Tory-appointed FSAFC will decide if “redress” is applicable.
It is not only universities that are under attack. Tories know that control of student unions is necessary in order to control speech. “We [the Tories] believe it is sensible for the OfS to be given powers to regulate student unions in regard to free speech. The OfS would be able to apply its existing sanctions, including fines, to student unions that breached the requirements imposed on them in relation to free speech.”
“We are proposing the introduction of a statutory tort, which would give private individuals a right of redress if they have suffered loss. The purpose of such a route of redress would have the combined aim of both compensating individuals for any loss suffered, as well as ensuring that HEPs and student unions take their legal responsibilities seriously.” This could be claimed by “visiting speakers who are disinvited or ‘no platformed’.”
KEY POINT: Anyone could claim to be “no platformed” by a student union and then force an invite via a threat of a bill for “costs.” This will encourage student unions to invite unwanted guests to avoid monetary difficulties. It will also lessen criticism of extremists, particularly the large body of far-right grifters, for fear of them making a claim of “no platforming.” That is, free speech will be reduced. A Tory-appointed FSAFC will decide if “costs” for “no platforming” are applicable.
Williamson’s paper is waffling as an art form. Its arguments and deductions are comically absurd, embarrassingly dishonest, repetitive and wholly unconnected to education. The policy proposals are few, though expressed with meandering verbosity. However, the key points are worthy of note.
Overall, his aim is to facilitate ease of access for the far-right and for economic extremists while scaring opposition voices into lowering their volume. Above that there is more of the current Tory vogue for gammonistic posturing.
Williamson is opposed to education.
Related blog: Free Speech Champion: Controlled speech