(from Minding the Campus):
By Joanna Williams
Censorious antics of ‘snowflake’ students have regularly made front-page news here in the UK. No longer. The momentous political fall-out from the June 23rd referendum, when a majority of citizens voted in favor of Britain leaving the European Union, has swept all other concerns aside. Whatever occurs in the coming months, whether ‘Brexit’ actually happens, or, as looks increasingly likely, the democratic will of the people is kicked into the long grass, the response to the referendum from within universities has had a devastating impact on academic freedom.
My first indication that the debate around Brexit might be used to curtail free speech on campus came, ironically, after I gave a lecture on academic freedom. When I had finished speaking, the vice chancellor of the university thanked me but then went on talk about the institution’s perspective on the referendum. It surprised me that, despite making a rhetorical nod to the importance of debate, the most senior person in the university was prepared to advocate so forcefully for one particular political position. A week later, over coffee, a colleague confided that although he wanted to argue the case for Brexit publicly, he was concerned that this might have a negative impact upon his career.
It would be difficult to imagine universities, in the run up to a general election, publicly articulating a preference for one party over another, or urging staff and students to vote a certain way. But this is what happened in the run up to the referendum. Universities UK (UUK), an umbrella group representing the collective interests of the British higher education sector, launched its Universities for Europe campaign in July 2015. Its aim was to demonstrate how ‘the EU strengthens our already world-class higher-education system’ and to ‘promote powerful evidence and highlight compelling stories about the benefits of European Union membership’.
If an undergraduate sought ‘powerful evidence’ to prove an already determined political position they would, rightly, be criticized. An academic would be accused of blurring the lines between research and propaganda. Yet UUK expected scholarship to support a clearly defined agenda rather than simply contribute objective knowledge to a marketplace of ideas. If academic freedom is not formally curtailed, it certainly becomes more difficult to practice when intellectual contributions are not seen as competing claims of truth but as moral position statements. CONTINUE READING HERE