Lincoln University Conservatives have social media accounts suspended because they posted a low free-speech ranking for their university

March 7, 2017 • 10:30 am

As the tweet below notes, in January the website Spiked rated British Universities for how tolerant they were toward free speech, giving them three ratings:

The University of Lincoln, in the eponymous town, received an Amber rating for the University as a whole and red for its Student Union, for the following reasons: Charlie Peters writes for the Torygraph, and retweeted a Hull University Conservative Association post about what happened when the Lincoln University Conservative Society tweeted out a screenshot of these rankings. Lincoln’s Conservative Society social media accounts were suspended for bringing the University into disrepute!

It’s ironic that merely publicizing some negative assessments of free speech led to the further diminution of free speech!

The full story, by Harry Yorke, the online editor of the Torygraph, has now been published in the paper, confirming the accuracy of the tweet. Karl McCartney, a local MP, said this, “”This intolerant, illiberal and totalitarian response is akin to something out of the Soviet Union or North Korea rather than a place for learning and debate.” And both the University and its Student Union tendered tepid, self-serving responses:

A spokesman for Lincoln University said the Students’ Union had its own set of policies on free speech, adding that it respected its right to govern independently.

Lincoln Students’ Union said that it was unable to comment on “live disciplinary matters”, but said it was “proud to protect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions, ideas and concerns”.

The Student Union is dissembling since the matter is now longer “live,” and it’s not protecting anybody’s right to expression their opinions, except the Student Union itself. This whole incident is about as ironic as it gets.

30 thoughts on “Lincoln University Conservatives have social media accounts suspended because they posted a low free-speech ranking for their university

  1. A spokesman for Lincoln University said the Students’ Union had its own set of policies on free speech, adding that it respected its right to govern independently.

    Wait, so the Student Union has been given the authority to limit other student’s internet access? Who thought that was a good idea?

    The university could at least make the excuse of “our servers, our rules,” but the Student Union? What reason do they have for being able to control who can use social media and who can’t?

    1. Ooohhhh, it’s a great idea, considering student unions are SJW havens and refuse to pass even simple things like Holocaust Remembrance Day.

      1. The Students’ Union’s “RIGHT” to “govern independently”? Who was it that GAVE them this “right”? Can they then, govern as “independently” as they want to? Can they decide what classes will be taught, or what will be served in the cafeteria, etc.? Sounds like the University is operating out of sheer intellectual laziness and their own fear of possibly “triggering” a bunch of snowflakes, who might disrupt things and/or damage school property if aroused…..SAD!

  2. This has a lot in common philosophically with the fact that criticizing the draconian anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan is also considered blasphemy.

  3. Tell ze peeple about our tactics and reputation and vee vill send you avay to the camps!!

    It’s clearly an intimidation tactic. All the students posted was the factual reality of their school, an article about their ranking. This is a message to all students there: don’t complain about your civil liberties, or you *will* be punished.

  4. You have the right to free speech
    As long as
    You’re not dumb enough to actually try it

    “Know Your Rights” – The Clash.

  5. I started reading this assuming that it was Lincoln Alabama (or Nebraska, et al), not my home city. Worse still that I worked for one of the precursor institutions 27 years ago, when I thankfully left academia for the fleshpots of commerce. I really wouldn’t thrive in education these days 😮

  6. While this behaviour is indeed ironic, I am increasingly puzzled about Spike’s ranking. They consider it to be terrible to have:

    A policy for handling events with external speakers; an equal opportunities policy; a policy against hazing; a safe spaces policy; and a no-platform policy for, note well, harassment, bullying and discrimination.

    Am I missing something here? I mean, it is well possible that in practice such policies are implemented as “you are not allowed to speak because your atheism is considered offensive, but gender-segregation at this religious event is just fine.”

    But in principle, how can Spike say “you promote equal opportunities, so you are a bad person”? Or, “you don’t want your students to be bullied, so you are a bad person”. That is ridiculous, and merely makes it look as if Spike is run by right-wing extremists.

    1. That’s what I was thinking. The incident with Milo and his singling out of a transgender student comes to mine. A no-platform policy for bulling, harassment and discrimination seems to be policing behavior rather than opinions. If you’re gonna be a dick to other people, then people are gonna not like you.

      1. Lincoln is the UK so the rules are different, but in the US, AIUI, Milo’s doxxing is not illegal. Thus any university giving students an ‘open forum’ for speakers would have a very hard time claiming they could deny him because he illegally harasses people – technically, he doesn’t. Or at least he hasn’t yet. He certainly harasses individuals in the vernacular sense, but not in the legal sense.

        On your last comment – I think Berkeley did signal quite strongly that they didn’t like Milo and didn’t ideologically support the invite. That’s a different thing than legally denying the College Republican group the right to invite him. They disagreed with the CR’s speech but not their right to speak it.

        While Milo’s 15 minutes appear to be up, I expect the same issue (i.e. is a speaker’s speech harassment) will be brought up of other speakers. When that happens, it will probably take more than just giving out someone’s name and address and ‘outing’ them to count. If you think the courts are being unfairly lenient on bigots, remember that pro-life web sites have been doing this to abortion doctors for decades – sometimes even providing their pictures on line, sometimes even putting a gunsight/target over their faces! – and the courts have always ruled such speech to be legally protected.

    2. I also wondered if I was missing something: “… must refrain from acting in a manner likely to prevent or disrupt the purpose for which an event is being held” seems more like a defence of speakers’ and audiences’ speech rights than an attack, while still allowing dissidents to quietly express disagreement or challenge a speaker in any Q & A session.

    3. It’s not the existence of the policy, but some specific details of the policies that they oppose. If you go to the report and click the plus signs next to the items, they expand and show more details. For example, expanding the policy for external speakers, it shows the following quote from the policy:

      Speakers “must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony. Within a framework of positive debate and challenge seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups… The union reserves the right to deny a platform to racist and fascist individuals and groups by debating them as part of the No Platform policy in the usual channels.”

      1. Well, if that is how this is to be read they should be clearer. If I were to criticise, say, a country for having the death penalty for stealing, I wouldn’t put together a page saying “red warning flag: this country punishes thieves”.

        1. No, you simply need to read the notes describing the methodology, which are very clear and easy to find. Right at the top of the page, the very first link is from the words “More about how it works”, taking you to a page called “How we rank”. It would be hard to make it any simpler.

          1. I do now understand what they mean, and that they provide more (albeit often vague) information when you click on the little pluses, but they are not exactly communicating clearly. I feel that my example in the comment you replied to is perfectly equivalent to how their report comes across.

      2. Ahhh, I see. Next time, I should read the fine print. Another example of believing in free speech but not really. Thanks, Adam.

      3. That may be clearer, but IMO its also clearly still regressive and anti-free speech. The whole point of things like the first amendment is to ensure people can say things that the social majority thinks are ‘disruptive’ and ‘disharmonious.’ Hatred, intolerance, racism, and fascism are allowed, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into incitement of illegal acts.

    4. I’m not sure that I would take anything the Spiked said too seriously. It’s one of those publications that presents itself as iconoclastic, data-driven, not committed to leftist constraints on free thought etc.; sort of like Reason. But it has, for instance, a long history of climate-change denialism, and if you read the comments, you’ll probably note that the free-thinkers making up its readership are as beholden to their own set of orthodoxies as much as, if not more so, than they accuse lefties of being. Again, very like Reason.

      1. That is also the feeling I get, but that in itself does not mean that their stance on free speech at universities is necessarily wrong. What I find more annoying is that this list makes it sound as if having any kind of equal opportunity policy, for example, is suppressing free speech.

  7. If it’s the accepted punishment for “bringing the University of Lincoln into disrepute”, the student union needs to immediately suspend their own social media account.

  8. I find it extremely ironic that the University’s policy of Free Speech, for which it received an ‘Amber’ rating, is aimed at precisely the sort of behaviour we’ve all been condemning over the last few days.

    Can’t win.

    (I note that the subsequent suspension of accounts was done by the Student Union and not by the University).


    1. The USSR had the best human rights constitution in the history of mankind. And the best union rights ever. I know because I actually used to read Pravda (for the laughs). And if you wanted to go on strike for awful working conditions they put you in a ‘mental institution’, usually somewhere in Siberia – I hear because of the great climate – because to protest against such perfect workers rights and human rights proved that you must be insane.

      1. And this is relevant how?

        I’ll repeat my point, explicitly. The University’s Free Speech policy states specifically that disruption of meetings is not permitted. And the overwhelming sentiment on this site over the last few days has been that the disruption of meetings (in some US Universities) by protestors has been unacceptable. In other words, almost precisely what the University’s policy says.

        And yet the University has been rated ‘amber’ for ‘chilling free speech though intervention’ for that very same policy.

        See the irony?


    2. The full text of Lincoln’s policy is here. It seems 99% reasonable. I think the only part that gets them the amber rating is that last line under #5, where the policy states people must refrain from (among other things) offensive speech which may lead to a breach of the peace. That’s essentially giving the grievance crowd a heckler’s veto power. The way the Lincoln policy is worded, if I say something that offends you and that leads you to breach the peace, technically the university will find *me* at fault for what I said rather than you at fault for your breach.

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