Tag: Academic Freedom

University free speech rankings in the UK and the US

Spiked Free Speech on CampusFor the first Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) in the UK, Spiked ranked the policies and actions of universities and students’ unions, for free speech purposes, using a traffic-light system – red is bad; amber has chilled speech; green means a hands-off approach to free speech. An overall ranking for an institution is given as an average of the two (university and students’ union) rankings. FSUR is the first step in a campaign by Spiked, in partnership with students around the UK, against free speech restrictions on campus in the UK.

I wonder how Trinity College Dublin would do under the FSUR heads of assessment:


Philosophical questions about fascism and free speech

Logos for Phil, BNP, TCD

Last Tuesday, in the My Education Week column in the Irish Times, Paddy Prendergast, the Provost of Trinity College Dublin (and thus my boss) wrote a diary of his working week. This is how his entry for Wednesday, October 5th, began (with added links):

I meet with the Senior Dean and Dean of Students to discuss the student debating society, the Philosophical Society’s invitation to the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, to participate in a debate later this month. The issue has received considerable media coverage, but more importantly there are objections from our own college community. Freedom of speech is an important principle as is that of self-governance of student societies. We agree to meet with the Philosophical Society and consider this serious matter further. …

This seemed positive enough. Both freedom of speech and student society self-governance would pull in favour of allowing Nick Griffin to speak. Don’t get me wrong: Griffin’s views are loathsome, and the BNP is a hateful organisation, but I defend their right to spew their foul and horrid bile simply so that it can be exposed for the obnoxious and indefensible nonsense that it is. But this debate is not to be. According to a statement on the TCD website:

The University Philosophical Society and Trinity College Dublin have decided to withdraw the invitation to Mr Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party. Mr Griffin was invited by the Philosophical Society to participate in a debate on October 20th next. After careful consideration of the matter, involving a series of discussions between the Philosophical Society’s officers and the College and taking all safety considerations into account, the decision was taken today (October 14th).

The College encourages balanced debate and freedom of speech at all times. It is a very important part of academic life, particularly among students and their societies. As part of the education of our students, the College also promotes the autonomy and self governance of student societies. These are important principles observed by the College.

Following careful review of operational and safety issues, the Philosophical Society and the College are now not satisfied that the general safety and well being of staff and students can be guaranteed. Access to the College will not be given to Mr Griffin or members of the BNP.

The University Philosophical Society feels it is unfortunate that circumstances have arisen under which the planned debate cannot go ahead without compromising safety.

The original invitation was predictably controversial. The decision to rescind it has garnered quite a bit of media coverage (BBC | DailyUpdate.ie | Irish Examiner | Irish Independent | Irish Times here and here | PA | RTÉ | StudentNews.ie | TheJournal.ie | University Times | UTV); and this has been welcomed by some of the visit’s critics (including the youth wing of the Irish Labour Party, and the Socialist Workers Party).

I am dismayed by this turn of events. Having several times wrapped themselves in the mantle of freedom of expression, TCD and the Phil have now let the mantle slip. Those who claim to respect freedom of speech must actively do so when it is difficult; else they do not really respect it at all. Freedom of speech is not always self-executing – when push comes to shove, it is necessary to be active in its defence and support. If a society such as the Phil invites controversial speakers, making a grab for the headlines, then that society must take all necessary steps to ensure that the controversial speakers actually have the opportunity to speak. Otherwise, the hecklers in a hostile audience will have a veto on the speakers. And the heckler’s veto is antithetical to freedom of speech. Hence, the US Supreme Court has rejected it as inconsistent with the freedom of expression guarantees in the First Amendment.


Great news: criminal libel case in France against Joe Weiler is dismissed

Journal Editor Wins Libel Case Over Negative Book Review

March 3, 2011, 1:49 pm

A journal editor who was sued in France for criminal libel because of a negative book review has won his case, he told The Chronicle today. Joseph H.H. Weiler, a professor of law at New York University, said that a French court had ruled against the complaint brought against him by Karin N. Calvo-Goller, a scholar in Israel. Ms. Calvo-Goller took issue with a critical review of one of her books on the Global Law Books Web site, which Mr. Weiler edits. 


Views: Save Academic Freedom – Inside Higher Ed

… “Academic freedom now confronts challenges powerful enough to ask not what its future will be,” writes Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, in No University Is an Island: Saving Academic Freedom (2010), “but whether it will have a future at all.

Nelson’s warning is timely. But his analysis is incomplete. Focusing on how political, corporate, and administrative intrusions threaten academic freedom, Nelson casts professors as victims of powerful anti-intellectual forces. But that’s not the whole story. And if academic freedom is to be saved, the whole story must be told.

… Academic freedom belongs to the public — it is not the property of academics. Professors must explain why academic freedom is vital to our democracy — and prove that they deserve it.

Beset by budget shortfalls, rising tuition, poor learning outcomes, and scandal, our colleges and universities are under more scrutiny than ever. Demands for accountability have never been louder. Failure to meet those demands has never had a higher price tag.

Professors must decide how much academic freedom is worth to them. Is it worth policing themselves — consistently, consequentially, and transparently? If so, academic freedom might just have a future after all.

Erin O’Connor and Maurice Black are research fellows at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Is a lost First worth £5m?

University of Bradford building, via the university's websiteAfter Andrew Croskery comes Tony Chinedu Wogu. According to the Daily Telegraph and The Register, Tony Chinedu Wogu has failed in his bid to sue the University of Bradford for £5m compensation, alleging that a 2:2 and not a First in Computing Science was the result of discrimination and breach of contract. Judge Andrew Collender QC struck out his case, saying academics had a much better understanding of the quality of a student’s work than lawyers did. As Treacy J had done in Croskery, Collender QC pointed out that Mr Wogu he could seek judicial review of the university’s decision to award him a 2:2, but only after he had exhausted his internal appeals. Moreover, he reasserted the principle of judicial deference to matters of purely academic judgment (as opposed to breaches of procedure):

This court has the most limited of powers to interfere in such a decision. This court has not the power or expertise to simply examine or to determine the proper degree grade to which the claimant would have been entitled from the University of Bradford. That is a decision particularly within the scope of an academic institution. It would not be for this court to apply its judgment as to the degree level reached and substitute that for the university’s … and the defendants’ application to strike out is successful.

Academic freedom and tenure: some further thoughts (Donncha Kavanagh) « University Blog

…The state then, as argued by Kant in 1798, has a duty to protect academic freedom in order to enhance if not ensure the rule of reason in public life, while the university has commensurate duty to counter the excesses of the state and its desires.

… neither should one be in thrall to academic freedom, or use it to simply buttress selfish desires for permanent employment and security. In this regard, I think academic freedom should not always be bundled together with the concept of ‘permanency’ (which varies in meaning depending on context). …

… If academic freedom is a meaningful privilege that comes with real responsibilities, it must have an elitist dimension, which means that there needs to be a robust process to determine who is accorded this freedom (qua responsibility). …

See also Stephen Mennell and Paddy Healy Defending academic freedom (Letter, Irish Times, 1 February 2011):

the debate on academic freedom … concerns the freedom of the academic expert to speak the truth in the public interest. That freedom is underpinned by the right to tenure in the Universities Act (1997).

Ferdinand von Prondzynski Lack of trust is the biggest threat to our academic freedom
(column, Irish Times, 1 February 2011):

If we are serious about exploiting the smart economy, we need to build up understanding between our academics and the public. … the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform concluded last year … suggest[s] that working conditions for academics need to be reviewed and new contracts introduced. This has been seen by some … as the start of an erosion of intellectual freedom and individual autonomy and the introduction of corporate-style management and controls. Initial draft negotiation plans by some universities have reinforced those suspicions.

The Irish Universities Association, however, has emphasised that this is not what is being planned. Chief executive Ned Costello told me:

The review of the contract is concerned with ensuring that the normal obligations of a staff member in relation to issues such as attendance, annual leave and performance management and development are observed. It is not about constraining freedom of inquiry, which is a foundation stone of our university system. It is about consolidating the good practice which already exists in the sector.

… A new bond of trust needs to be re-established between our third level and the country, and this needs to work both ways. It means that our politicians and opinion-formers must stop the constant barrage of unsubstantiated criticisms of the sector (bearing in mind that individual anecdotes are not evidence of an overall problem). The sector itself must accept that we now live in an age where we all have to be seen to be accountable, and that reform is unavoidable, including some mechanism for identifying and dealing with under-performance where it occurs.

And all sides have to re-commit themselves to intellectual integrity and academic freedom, in the service of national regeneration.

Sarah Ludington: The Dogs that Did Not Bark: Academic Freedom, Tenure, and the Silence of the Legal Academy During World War II

During World War II, the legal academy was virtually uncritical of the government’s conduct of the war, despite some obvious domestic abuses of civil rights, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans. This silence has largely been ignored in the literature about the history of legal education. This Article argues that there are many strands of causation for this silence. On an obvious level, World War II was a popular war fought against a fascist threat, and left-leaning academics generally supported the war. On a less obvious level, law school enrollment plummeted during the war, and the numbers of full-time law professors dropped by half. Of those professors “laid off” during the war, many took employment in government agencies and thus effectively silenced themselves. Finally, the American Association of Law Schools had only adopted a strong position on academic freedom and tenure in 1940. The commitment to academic freedom and tenure was insecure in many institutions and was only weakened by the severe economic strain of the war. To illustrate the effect of these larger forces, this Article tells the stories of five professors who criticized domestic policy during the war and the institutional consequences of their dissent. Of those professors, only one – a tenured professor at New York University – was fired during the war. While the basic building blocks of legal academies are the same today as they were in World War II, other factors such as strong institutional commitments to academic freedom and tenure, a robust First Amendment, and economic prosperity have significantly changed the roles that law professors are empowered to play in society, most significantly as the watchdogs of government.

Tenure and academic freedom in the news

Tenure: I'll take that as a no!The rather arcane principles of academic tenure and academic freedom, which have long featured on this blog, have recently moved close to the centre of industrial relations debate and political discussion. The National Strategy for Higher Education in Ireland (the Hunt Report) and the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014 (the Croke Park Agreement) seem to imperil both concepts. The current conception of academic tenure is threatened by proposals to make significant changes to academic employment conditions, and the current conception of academic freedom is undermined by recommendations that fundamental academic choices should be determined not by academics or institutions but at national level. It is unsurprising, therefore, that a recent meeting of Irish academics protested against the implementation of the Croke Park agreement in third-level institutions, and called for the defence of tenure and academic freedom.

Some colleges and universities have been strong in their defence of these concepts. For example, I have already discussed the provisions of Trinity’s 2010 Statutes protecting tenure and academic freedom. Moreover, the Trinity’s Council and Board have recently approved a detailed and progressive Policy on Academic Freedom. I have also discussed similar statutory provisions in other Irish universities. To that, I can now add the provisions of NUI Maynooth‘s statutes relating to tenure. (more…)