University Speech Restriction Causes Controversy | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

University Speech Restriction Causes Controversy

A university is facing criticism for restricting free speech by proposing alternative terminology for students and academics to utilise in a drive to become more inclusive of minority students

Cardiff Metropolitan University has been branded ‘insulting to students and academics’ after it released a list of over thirty terms it deems inappropriate. The Code of Practice on Using Inclusive Language was collated and released ‘in order to promote an atmosphere in which all students and staff feel valued’, and also aims to promote ‘fairness and equality through raising awareness about the effects of potentially discriminating language’.

The document states: ‘Language is constantly evolving and “acceptable terminology” can change’.

According to the authors, some of the unacceptable terms include ‘mankind’, ‘sportsmanship’, and ‘man-made’, as well as ‘the disabled’ and ‘homosexual’, which it believes is ‘laden with values of a previous time’. A full list of the thirty-four terms deemed unacceptable can be found online.

‘these words have evolved over a long period of time, and don’t have sexist connotations’

The scheme, though, has met criticism from free-speech advocates who believe that the policy will constrain freedom of expression. An anonymous lecturer from the University of Kent spoke to The Telegraph, stating, ‘these words have evolved over a long period of time, and don’t have sexist connotations’.

Worries were further heightened as this policy is introduced at a time when nine out of ten universities in the UK were found to be constrictive of free speech, according to research for Spiked magazine conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. This study found that Cardiff Metropolitan University, alongside the University of Birmingham, is included in a list of ‘severely’ restrictive institutions, which includes almost 65% of all higher education providers.

The plans have also been criticised by Dr Williams, author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, who spoke to BBC Wales soon after the plans were unveiled, stating that universities ‘should trust academics to be able to communicate with each other without being permanently offended’.

‘should trust academics to be able to communicate with each other without being permanently offended’

She continued by labelling the policy as ‘very insulting’ and ‘very authoritarian’. Speaking of the banned words, she added, ‘if you look at their origins, they are not really based on an exclusionary idea, [...] the words have come to encompass more than just men. They are more general’.

The President of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, who has herself been criticised of utilising ‘outright racism’, has previously defended the monitoring of speech, however, stating that similar policies ‘create an environment where students and staff are free from harassment and fear'.

‘This is about creating communities that all can participate in without the risk of violence or abuse.’

Should they experience the policy being breached, students of Cardiff Metropolitan University are advised to refer to the Bullying and Harassment Policy, whilst academics and staff are to consult the Disciplinary procedure.


16th March 2017 at 10:00 am

Last Updated

16th March 2017 at 7:23 am

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Chris Christian