Sunday, February 25, 2024
HomeKathy GyngellToday’s hot topic: Would a universities academic watchdog have teeth?

Today’s hot topic: Would a universities academic watchdog have teeth?


IT will come as no surprise to readers of TCW to hear that ‘Right-wing academics are ‘forced to hide views’ – the conclusion of a report entitled Academic Freedom in the UK, published by the think-tank Policy Exchange and reported in the Times on Monday.

However, the report is not the labour of some of the better-known ‘persecuted’ academics such as Professor Nigel Biggar, or those liberated to speak by their retirement. It is the work of three lesser-known names, Remi Adekoya, who teaches politics at Sheffield University; Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London; and Tom Simpson, associate professor of philosophy at Oxford. 

They are backed by the former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court justice, and finally Ruth Kelly, the former Education Secretary. 

Based on a polled representative sample of UK- based academic opinion, designed to explore the concern that ‘strongly-held political attitudes are restricting the freedom of those who disagree to research and teach on contested subjects,’ it finds that nearly a third of those who say their political views are ‘Right’ or ‘fairly Right’ have stopped openly airing opinions in teaching and research, compared with 13 per cent of those in the centre and on the Left.

The authors recommend an Academic Freedom Bill to counter this self-censorship and an Academic Freedom Ombudsman ‘to ensure that a) universities support intellectual dissent, which drives progress and innovation and b) all lawful speech is protected on campus’.

The question is: Will this cut the mustard? The report barely touches the institutional bias that has become a structural feature of our universities, from their overpaid politically correct or worse, woke, vice-chancellors downwards. 

Do potential academic dissenters from modern orthodoxies get employed in the university sector any longer? Isn’t a self-perpetuating channelling of Leftist ideology preventing that? 

Can we expect an Academic Ombudsman to come down like a ton of bricks on the ‘Head of School’ that Dr Mike McCulloch, a mathematician and physicist at Plymouth University nearly fell foul of? 

Would such a figure if appointed stand up to University College retrospectively over the case of the made-to-apologise and made-to-resign Nobel Prize-winning Sir Tim Hunt?

Would the presence of an Ombudsman ensure the Universities would think twice before sacking a distinguished historian over an unintentionally received ‘offensive’ or supposedly ‘racist’ comment? Or would such ‘crimes’ despite apologies leave the offender forever outside the pale?

Finally how would an Ombudsman cope with Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, who thinks that ‘The idea that academic freedom is under threat is a myth?’


If you appreciated this article, perhaps you might consider making a donation to The Conservative Woman. Unlike most other websites, we receive no independent funding. Our editors are unpaid and work entirely voluntarily as do the majority of our contributors but there are inevitable costs associated with running a website. We depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. You can donate here. Thank you.
If you have not already signed up to a daily email alert of new articles please do so. It is here and free! Thank you.

Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @KathyConWom on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

Sign up for TCW Daily

Each morning we send The ConWom Daily with links to our latest news. This is a free service and we will never share your details.