from the Free Speech Union

For centuries, universities have been at the forefront of challenging our assumptions, developing our knowledge, and moving our society forward. This has only been able to happen because ideas or beliefs have been continuously subjected to scrutiny. Free speech underpins this mechanism.

Yet, rather than defending free speech, universities seem primary culprits undermining it today. This is deeply concerning.

Earlier this year, Jonathan and the team released the first Free Speech Union Academic Freedom Survey which was sent to over 17,000 New Zealand academics. It showed a troubling state of speech suppression, where many university lecturers felt unable to challenge certain assumptions or raise a different view with their colleagues or students.  

University Ranking Report:

Today, we are releasing a report following on from this survey – our first Free Speech Union University Ranking. We have assessed and graded the state of free speech at each university, considering their policies and actions. There is much work to do.

Ranking summary

It is difficult to see what positive role universities can play in our society – let alone be the “critic and concience” that the law requires them to be – unless they are bastions of free expression. 

Without free speech, our universities simply perpetrate approved perspectives and acceptable speech. They are unable to contribute to important discussions, move the debate forward, or offer new understanding on controvercial matters. Some of the worst opposition we face against free speech comes from where it should be most celebrated: the university.

If we don’t stand and insist that our institutions of learning allow debate, any hope of addressing the complex questions in our society is lost.    

<<Download our Universities Ranking Report to see how each institution stacks up in standing for free speech>>

We will be meeting with representatives from each university over the coming months to discuss their ranking, and how and why they must stand for free speech.  

We are also continuing our Speaking Series on university campuses – the next one will be at the University of Otago. Unsurprisingly, this event had to be postponed as we had to negotiate with Otago University, but we would not give in. If you’re in Otago, this is an event worth traveling to be at. Let us know you’re coming by RSVPing at this link.

We’ll be considering what free speech and responsible politics look like in our increasingly divided age.

We have a fantastic panel moderated by Peter Williams, with Otago academics, MPs, and local government represented. With universities telling students to be afraid of free speech, this is an opportunity to open up the debate and hear from all sides.  

Otago University Event

We reached out to numerous student organisations, such as the Otago University Student’s Association (OUSA), the political society, Generation Vote, and others, to participate in this discussion. We also contacted the four local Labour MPs and the Green party. None of them wanted to engage in this debate.  

As we always insist, free speech isn’t a Left-Right political issue. If anything, historically, it has been used more by the Left to advocate for greater freedoms and abused more by the Right through oppressive censorship. 

It’s unfortunate today that some of our leaders seem intent on shutting down important discussions by refusing to engage. It may seem like a win, refusing to dignify ‘hateful’ or ‘harmful’ speech, but dialogue has been shown again and again to be the greatest tool societies have for peace and stability. There’s a perverse irony in ‘student leaders’ advocating for students’ interests, but refusing to join in discussions that would amplify their voices. Instead, they have opted to maintain a faux-morality that neither contributes nor constructs. This is not leadership. 

A world where we are so certain of our own correctness is a world where we stop moving forward. Free speech is a humble enterprise. It admits we could be wrong, and that dialogue will reveal it. 

By challenging universities to do better, doing the leg-work to show where their policies are faulty, promoting open debates at universities, and much more, the Free Speech Union is working to ensure that the next generation values open debate.