PRESS RELEASE: JULY 6, 2021

The Council for the Defence of British Universities is pleased to publish its position paper on Academic Freedom brought together by three executive committee members: Dr Kelli Rudolph, Professor Susan Bruce and Professor John Holmwood. The paper articulates the nature and importance of academic freedom as a public good and highlights the challenges it currently faces. It sets out a series of suggestions for protecting academic freedom within universities and beyond, including a model ordinance that individual institutions might adopt to assert institutional autonomy in upholding this essential principle. You can read and download CDBU’s position paper on Academic Freedom here.

Comment from Dr Kelli Rudolph, lead author of the paper and senior lecturer in Classics and Philosophy:

“Academic freedom is the lifeblood of intellectual progress, but its value is not confined to the ivory tower. Although it is the fundamental right of academic staff to challenge received wisdom in the classroom, in their research, and in public, academic freedom also secures important goods for all of society by providing a space for genuine, civil, intellectual debate. The free search for answers to difficult and sensitive questions is a common good, but in the UK and abroad, academic freedom has been wielded by some as a tool in the cultural and political wars that are raging around issues like gender identity, sexuality, decolonising the curriculum, or Black Lives Matter. We have written this paper, in part, to combat the idea that academic freedom is partisan or that it stands in opposition to values like inclusivity or diversity. As we make clear, academic freedom is the essential underpinning to ensure that all voices on a topic are heard, regardless of their political stance.

Moreover, in recent months, the UK government has taken steps to legislate on academic freedom in a way that undermines the autonomy of universities and places adjudicatory power for what can only be determined by academic experts into the hands of civil servants. The Office for Students sits outside of the arena of research and scholarly activity, and therefore may not fully understand what is at stake. To aid universities in the protection of academic freedom – and to assert their institutional autonomy – we have provided a sample of protections that can be added to university governing documents and policies to protect academic freedom without the need for government intervention on one of the most fundamental missions of a university: to advance knowledge. This model is based on international best practice, the background of which is also presented for those who wish to undertake further study themselves. Thus, our paper issues a call to action to University leaders, governing bodies, and academic staff to exercise and protect academic freedom at their own institutions.”

CDBU position statement on Academic Freedom:

“Academic freedom operates in a sphere separate from that of politics and government; universities serve the public, not the state. For this reason, the authority for determining what academic freedom is, and what regulations should rightly protect it, cannot sit with the Government or any other non-academic body, but must rest with academics themselves.”

We encourage members and friends of CDBU to read and share this document widely with colleagues, in your departments, schools, faculties, divisions, and across the University sector nationally and internationally. Our upcoming AGM on 8 July will include a discussion on academic freedom with three distinguished speakers, Peter-André Alt, Stephen Wordsworth and Terence Karran. If you have not already received a link to attend the AGM, please get in touch at cdbumembership@gmail.com and we will happily provide the details.

*ENDS*


Notes to editors:

The CDBU was founded in 2012 by a wide range of concerned academics and public figures to campaign for the independence of UK universities and to resist the creeping marketisation of higher education. For more information, please contact Press Officer Becca Bashford at cdbupress@gmail.com.