Staff news

Senate Presentation 20 October 2021: Freedom of Expression

All members of staff are warmly invited to the presentation and discussion section of Senate.

The meeting will open with updates from the Convener of Senate, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson.

This will be followed by a presentation and discussion on Freedom of Expression.

Freedom of Expression presentation and discussion

Freedom of expression in universities has been very much in the news in recent months. The University introduced its own Statement on Freedom of Expression last year, setting out a clear position on the vital importance of freedom of expression to a university such as Edinburgh.  The University has also had to navigate a number of situations in recent months where its approach to freedom of expression has come under public scrutiny. The Westminster government is now introducing legislation – a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – that will impose requirements for both universities and students’ unions to protect freedom of speech on campus (although the Bill will not apply in Scotland).

In this Senate-hosted discussion we will look at the University’s statement, at the legal position and the University’s current arrangements for managing high profile speakers, events on campus and navigating differing views within our community. We will hear from two senior academics on the interplay between freedom of expression and dignity and respect; and between freedom of expression and academic freedom. We will also hear from the Students’ Association President who will bring a student perspective to the debate. As with all Senate-hosted sessions, there will be ample time given for members of the University to give their views and opinions. Feedback from this session, alongside feedback from a similar seminar with the University Court, will be summarised and passed back to the University Executive who are due to consider any revisions to the Statement on Freedom of Expression later this year.

Presentation topics and speakers

  • Introduction and overview of the University of Edinburgh statement. Sarah Smith, Vice-Principal Strategic Change and Governance and University Secretary
  • Freedom of expression, academic freedom and other statutory obligations – What does the law say? Leigh Chalmers, Deputy Secretary, Governance and Legal
  • Speakers and events – how does the UoE manage higher risk events? Gavin Douglas, Deputy Secretary Student Experience
  • Freedom of Expression and Dignity and Respect. Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley, University Lead, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Freedom of Expression: the student view. Ellen MacRae, President of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association
  • Freedom of Expression and academic freedom. Professor Richard Andrews

The audience will have opportunities to provide feedback and ask questions following the presentation.

Meeting details

The session will take place on Wednesday 20 October at 2.00pm. The meeting will take place online, and further details will be sent to participants in advance of the meeting.

Places for this event can be booked through an online registration form: Register now

In order to allow time for the meeting set-up, please note registration will close at 5pm on Monday 18 October 2021.

Please note that this event will be recorded, and recordings will be made available to staff on request.

Related links

Senatus Academicus

Freedom of Expression