Rules that strengthen freedom of speech obligations for English universities are not being followed while ‘contested ideologies’ are imposed.
Leading universities spend 214 times more on diversity than on free speech protection staff, according to Freedom of Information data.
AFFS is a campaign to represent alumni to work with and, if necessary, pressurise UK universities to protect free speech better.
It sent out Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to over 50 UK universities to find out what they are spending on Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) departments and what they are spending on free speech protection.
It found that 47 universities which provided relevant information employ 11 EDI staff on average, with over £19.5 million being spent on EDI.
Of the 43 universities that provided information about free speech, only two said they employed anyone with specific freedom of speech responsibilities.
These two between them employed not more than five people. One reported staff costs of £71,000, another said it spent just over £20,000 on external free speech resources.
That means that they are currently spending about 214 times as much money on EDI as on free speech protection.
Free Speech Duties
With the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, the government has created new duties on universities, colleges, and their students’ unions to strengthen free speech and academic freedom.
The bill gives an enhanced role for the Office for Students (OfS), the independent regulator of higher education in England, in promoting free speech.
This means that institutions would be required to take steps to promote free speech within the law, rather than just to secure it.
The bill became law in May, although the majority of its provisions are not yet in force.
AFFS said that the expansion of EDI departments has “led to an alarming decline of the institutional neutrality that was once the norm at universities.”
They argue that neutrality has “been abandoned as their Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) departments, which seem to be growing inexorably, push often controversial agendas involving gender, critical race theory and the need to decolonise curriculum.”
It said that the fact that these universities “employ virtually no one to ensure compliance with their free speech obligations suggests that most are not serious about free speech protection.”
“Despite the stated expectations of the Office for Students, they appear to be doing little more than paying lip service to their statutory duties while continuing to fail to comply with them,” it added.
William Mackesy of AFFS told The Epoch Times that the report showed that universities “don’t appreciate the impact of their obligations.”
“And we don’t think they’re doing that anything like enough, as evidenced by the fact that most of them don’t have anyone dedicated to it,” he added.
Mr. Mackesy took an optimistic, yet cautious tone, noting that more and more academics are standing up for free speech, calling the law and campaigns “green shoots.”
“Which is a brave thing to do because as they’re being attacked and cancelled,” he said.
“At the moment the universities are basically more or less unaccountable as we see it and this is going bring in the right people to actually sue the universities a bit like the Equality Act,” he said.
“So that’s going be a major step,” he added.
In a statement accompanying the report, Nigel Biggar, former Oxford Regius Professor and author of “Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning,” said that “EDI departments impose various contested ideologies on students and staff, and this study shows that there is no one empowered to stand up against them and for free speech.”
Also in a statement, Dennis Hayes, founder of Academics for Academic Freedom, said that “Universities’ abandonment of institutional neutrality about controversial ideas has led to the suppression of dissenting opinions, forcing people to conform to EDI agendas.”
He added that this campaign “gets inside the disproportionate power of EDI to enforce its agendas. It is an important step forward for free
thought in our universities.”
Following up, Mr Hayes told the Epoch Times that the number of staff working in EDI is likely much bigger than the report says.
The Epoch Times contacted The Department Of Education and the OfS for a response.