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?
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?’