Academic freedom under threat
Saturday 27 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Cafe Café Conversations

Academic freedom is under immense strain. Campaigns to sack allegedly racist academics; the expansion of student union no-platform policies to ever growing numbers of individuals and groups who espouse offensive views; government advising lecturers to spy on radical Muslim students; calls for a boycott on Israeli academics; and a climate of intellectual conformity – all threaten to erode the special commitment to open and rigorous debate supposedly cherished on campus. 

Although freedom of speech is itself contested, ‘academic freedom’ presents a distinct case. Do different rules really apply, and how? Do academics have special privileges not enjoyed by others? Or conversely does academic employment entail certain responsibilities – to students, the public, or even to Truth – which justify restrictions on freedom? An academic job is still a job – does this mean criticism of university administration does not fall under the banner of ‘academic freedom’, and if so where should we draw the line? Or do such considerations miss what is special about the university as a place of free inquiry? Many academics are today feeling the need to restate the fundamental principles of academic freedom – is this something that should be of interest beyond the university itself? Under the threat of boycotts and censorship, the limits placed on ‘academic freedom’ will ultimately help define what academia and the university are really about and their place in society.


Richard Reynolds
trainee barrister; formerly, paralegal, Baha Mousa and Al Sweady Public Inquiries; founder, Student Academics for Academic Freedom
Alex Gourevitch
researcher in political science, Columbia University; editor of anti-war on terror website,; NY Salon member
Professor Steve Fuller
Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, University of Warwick
John Fitzpatrick
professor of law and director, Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent, Canterbury
Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

 Produced by

Professor Dennis Hayes professor of education, University of Derby

No academic freedom or no ideas?, Dennis Hayes

 Recommended readings

Happy to let someone tell you what to think?
The right to question and test received wisdom is one that is increasingly ignored as universities compel academics to abide by New Labour-like principles
Dennis Hayes, THES, 27 July 2006

Want to talk? First show me your credentials
Deference to academic expertise stifles the freedom to question and debate
Roy Harris, Times Higher Education Supplement, 28 September 2006

Education: No letting the side down
Should universities, by invoking their C of E governance, be allowed to restrict academic freedom if it's felt to be undermining their institution's Christian ethos?
Dennis Hayes and Keith Stevenson, Church Times, 7 June 2007

Against the grain: It's an academic's right to cause reasoned offence
'Academics,' states Steve Fuller, 'have the freedom to raise certain kinds of issue in ways that members of the public do not'
Nick Jackson, Independent, 4 July 2007

This principle is not negotiable
As the differing responses to Muslim radicals and Israeli academics show, 'freedom is a negotiable commodity; a right that can be denied to those deemed worthy of punishment'
Frank Furedi, Times Higher Education Supplement, 5 July 2007

Academic freedom: David Horowitz vs Russell Jacoby
Does the right of academics to decide what and how they teach constitute an abuse of academic freedom?
David Horowitz and Russell Jacoby, , 28 July 2005

recommended by spiked

Beware the ‘Campus Stasi’ at British universities
Maria Grasso, 30 July 2007

A pick’n’mix attitude to free speech
Steve Bremner, 21 March 2007

Who’s afraid of Israeli academics?
Nathalie Rothschild, 4 June 2007

The new Chief Inquisitor on campus
Frank Furedi, 16 February 2005

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