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School of Law

Penny Oderberg


PhD Student



Thesis Title

Principles, policies and dilemmas on free speech in universities


Summary of research

There is substantial evidence that ‘controversial’ but lawful views are being supressed in universities. This is especially problematic since free speech is not just a ‘right’ but materially constitutive of democracy – and universities are best placed to protect and promote democratic values.

The thesis will provide a jurisprudential comparative analysis of the law and policy on freedom of speech and academic freedom in the UK, USA and Australian universities. The law requires the balancing of competing demands, such as universities’ duty to protect free speech and academic freedom with those restrictions that are ‘necessary in a democratic society’ for the interest of national security, equality and the prevention of disorder on campus. But what does it mean to have free speech within the law in universities and can universities balance the different regulatory demands placed upon them? If not, what are the implications for free speech and academic freedom on campus and political legitimacy in general?

The overarching aim of the thesis is to uncover general or universal principles, concepts and reasoning in order to put forward a theory that will establish free speech as the core identity and mission of universities in democratic societies. The value of this theory is that it will allow us to identify deficiencies, uncertainties and gaps in the law, and make proposals for reform for universities in the UK and elsewhere.


Penny is a PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London where she has been awarded a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies and a PGCE in Post Compulsory Education and Training. Penny has worked as a lecturer and curriculum manager in both further and higher education for almost 20 years and has substantial experience in assessment and curriculum design. She is currently working as a psychology lecturer for the Open University, where she also completed her LLB (First Class Honours).



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