Universities have been accused of “paying lip service” to free speech and failing to employ enough staff to ensure it is protected.
Freedom of information data released today reveals just two of 43 leading universities said they employ staff with specific freedom of speech responsibilities. This equates to five members of staff. In contrast, universities employ 515 staff to deal with equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, at a cost of £17.9 million, according to research by campaign group Alumni for Free Speech.
The data also shows universities spent just £71,000 on staff costs for free speech issues. A spokesman for Alumni for Free Speech said: “Overall around 214 times as much money appears to be being spent by our leading universities on equality, diversity and inclusion as on free speech protection.”
It conducted the research because it said EDI departments are compromising the neutrality of universities and can be a source of free speech problems. In a statement it said these departments “push often controversial agendas involving gender, critical race theory and the need to decolonise curricula... They are also often at odds with universities’ obligations to protect free speech”.
The group found the London School of Economics and the University of Chichester employ five members of staff to deal with free speech issues, while the University of Essex has spent £20,000 on external free speech resources. No other top institutions said they employed dedicated staff with specific freedom of speech responsibilities.
Free speech on campuses has come under scrutiny after incidents where academics have faced threats. Professor Kathleen Stock left her job at the University of Sussex following a campaign by trans rights activists.
William Mackesy, co-founder of Alumni for Free Speech, said: “What amazes me most is that, despite their legal obligations to protect free speech, very few universities seem to have thought they should make someone responsible for making that happen.”
The Evening Standard is running an inquiry into freedom of speech, which is examining the danger that any rolling back of free speech poses, highlighting the arguments and seeking solutions.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK said: “Universities’ freedom of speech and work on EDI should never be in tension — both are necessary to ensure that all students and staff members feel able to exist and express themselves freely on campus.”
A spokesman for the Office for Students said: “Ultimately, it is for universities to decide on how best to direct their resources, but they must meet their legal duties around freedom of speech.”
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