Feeding culture of fear won't defend freedom 2

July 24, 2008

The statement issued by Sir Colin Campbell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham, indicating that it is illegitimate to study the operational or tactical aspects of terrorism, as opposed to the political dimensions, has far-reaching consequences for staff and students involved in security studies. His intervention raises major questions about just what kind of research is admissible, who should be allowed to carry it out and how this process is to be "policed".

We believe the statement goes against the spirit of government interventions in the area of liberty and security. Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, has said that the legitimate academic study of terrorism must extend to the "furthest limit of inquiry" and that it is "entirely acceptable and indeed necessary for academics to seek to understand and explain what motivates violent extremists".

Furthermore, we are concerned that Sir Colin's advice also goes against the controversial guidance issued by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on tackling violent extremism. I am not a fan of government guidelines but am not averse to saying when I agree with a minister. The advice makes it clear that universities are expected to "consult widely and use collective bargaining" when implementing the guidance.

We believe the implications of Sir Colin's statement constitute a serious threat to academic freedom. We have written to the Higher Education Minister seeking urgent clarification about the current anti-terrorism legislation and its relationship to freedom of academic inquiry.

Sally Hunt, General secretary, University and College Union.

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