Academic Rights Watch criticizes Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology: students’ right to free speech violated

Academic Rights Watch has received an audio recording suggesting that students at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm do not have the right to free speech, following a student being accused of harassment for sharing statistics about sex offenders among immigrants. Academic Rights Watch concludes that the university has failed to live up to constitutional and academic standards.

The case concerns a student, Felix, who outside the classroom became involved in a discussion with two other (female) students over the issue of whether there is overrepresentation of foreign-born or immigrants as perpetrators in various sexually related crimes in Sweden. Felix claimed this was the case,whereupon the two fellow students requested evidence. Felix then went back home returning with statistical evidence from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRÅ) and a privately conducted survey of court rulings in rape cases.

The whole matter could thereby have been concluded. However, the information somehow came in the hands of some other students whofelt offended by its content. These students reported the incident to the course administrators, who started a lecture by bringing up the case and commencing the complaining studentsfor their swift and adequate reaction. This took place in open class, with Felix present. The Rector of studies and Head of human resources then started an investigation intoFelix’s actions, leading to him being reported for “disturbing action or harassment”. The case sparkedan outrage in social media following whichthe case against Felix was dismissedby the Rector.

Following public requests that Academic Rights Watch should examine the case, we have investigated the recordingand publicized a transcription of it. We found that the Rector of studies and Head of human resources expresssome quite remarkable views about the freedom of expression for students at the Institute. Specifically, they claim that it is prohibited to spread opinions on campusthat might offendsome other student, and that it is the receiving studentwho decides if the informationshould be classified as harassment. Further, it isjudged to beirrelevant whether the informationconcerns political opinions or constitutesempirical facts. The important thing, according to the leaderships,is what other students ‘feel’ about what is being expressed.

Academic Rights Watch concludes that the Royal Institute of Technology, in suggesting that students do not have a right to freedom of expression or opinion, thereby creating uncertainty and confusion regarding those very rights, has failed to comply with the Swedish constitution as well as with basic academic and democratic principles that need to be firmly in place at academic institutions. Academic Rights Watch therefore directs severe criticism at the institute.

This text is an abstract summarizing the main points in the case, which is fully documented on Academic Rights Watch’s Swedish website.