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Is free speech on campus under threat?

  • 06 March 2017

The issue of free speech on campus, one of the most controversial topics in UK higher education, will come under the spotlight in a free debate at Caius on Tuesday 14 March. The College will host high-profile expert speakers from Cambridge and beyond to discuss the balance between free speech and safe spaces, amid a series of moves by student unions and universities themselves to ban debates or individual speakers. Chaired by Caius Philosophy Fellow Dr Arif Ahmed, the debate will feature Caius Fellow, economist and feminist Dr Victoria Bateman,  Professor Rae Langton,  of Cambridge Faculty of Philosophy and Newnham College, and Ella Whelan of the online current affairs magazine Spiked.

Organisers of the debate say:

The apparent threats to free speech are both internal and external. Students' Union officials have banned songs ('Blurred Lines' at Edinburgh and Leeds) and societies (the Nietzsche Club at UCL) and have attempted to ban speakers (Germaine Greer at Cardiff and Cambridge). Universities themselves have restricted speech: for instance, Christ Church in Oxford recently banned a debate on abortion in response to student pressure. Recent 'Prevent' legislation together with existing legislation (such as the Public Order Act) has created further restrictions on which speakers a university can invite and on what they can say if they ever get there. And all of this takes place in the context of increasing government surveillance and intrusion into private life.

That at least is how it might look. But are the threats to free speech more apparent than real? And if they are real, could they in fact be appropriate responses to well-motivated concerns? What is the value of free speech itself? Do we serve these purposes well by insisting on protecting it at almost any cost?

Three expert speakers will speak on these topics before discussing them first with one another and then with the audience. The event will last for about 90 minutes. Entrance is free and all are welcome.

For queries contact Dr Arif Ahmed, Faculty of Philosophy (ama24@cam.ac.uk).

The debate will take place in the Bateman Auditorium, Gonville & Caius, from 7.45pm-9.15pm, Tuesday 14 March 2017.

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