Aims & work

Free speech, academic freedom, and diversity of viewpoint are vital to a free and tolerant society. Without them, much of the progress the human race has made would never have been achieved. They are currently under serious threat at our universities – an evolving disaster for academics and students, and for society at large. Many alumni are deeply concerned and think that this de-enlightenment is a serious issue. 

Many people are now mobilising to defend free speech. Alumni can play an important part; universities and colleges will be more positive and active about defending free speech if alumni get organised and energetic.

We are therefore determined to:

  • help and encourage universities and other institutions to achieve policies and practices in relation to freedom of speech which comply with the law and best practice 
  • ensure that institutions work to secure and enforce free speech in practice

To this end, we will:

  • be co-ordinators and spokespeople for alumni who are our members 
  • be supporters and co-coordinators of campaigns established by alumni of particular universities and colleges – what we call “institution-focused campaigns” – under the umbrella of the AFFS campaign see our Start an association page
  • keep alumni and other supporters informed about free speech issues and our work
  • organise alumni to take action to secure free speech and to tackle specific incidents and problems

We will (and will encourage institution-focused campaigners to) make contact with institutions and establish dialogue. We won’t hesitate to exert pressure if institutions don’t work to achieve high standards of free speech promotion and protection.

At the same time, we and the institution-focused campaigns will aim to be positive and supportive. These are institutions we love.

We also recognise that there are difficult areas where differing (and sometimes irreconcilable) requirements and factors collide. We will be realistic about what is practicable for institutions to do while not letting them use them as an excuse for inaction or insufficient action. We are not politically aligned and will not favour one group’s right to be heard over another’s.

Our concern is everyone’s free speech.

This is a non-partisan, non-party political campaign; we see it as the reasonable against the unreasonable; free speech provides protections for everyone – left, right and centre. All moderates can join this campaign, whatever their political persuasion.

Hold universities and colleges to high standards of free speech protection

We will push institutions to:

  • adopt high standards of free speech promotion and protection
  • work to improve those standards over the years 
  • take active and concrete steps to put those standards into practice and promote and protect free speech

We will make this a long term project and monitor and publicise performance.

Exert pressure when special cases arise

We and the institution-focused campaigns will exert pressure on universities and colleges in respect of specific incidents involving actual or potential threats to, or suppression of, free speech or harms to any people in connection therewith.

Best free speech practice

What constitutes best free speech practice will evolve over the years. There is plenty of agreement as to the general principles for securing free speech, but less about what that will require in practice. We will keep alert to evolving standards and practices.

For the time being, the standards we and institution-focused campaigns expect institutions to live up to are set out at our Best practice page.

Institutions’ legal and practical obligations require them to develop detailed policies, requirements and procedures in the context of their particular circumstances and regulatory structures. AFFS does not see it as its business to get involved in the detail of this process (although we will try to help institutions if they wish), but will be monitoring for compliance with the relevant requirements and will intervene where appropriate compliance is not happening. AFFS envisages that institution-focused campaigns will take a similar approach.