Fight for free speech

June 16, 2006

Even at the highest level in higher education, the notion of academic freedom is often profoundly misunderstood. Academic freedom is freedom granted against work that falls within a given discipline and, in an academic context, plays an essential protective role.

The right that most matters today is to research, to think and to express one's findings without the hindrance of government agencies and under the protection of law in respect of those who might find one's views unacceptable. And that right belongs to us all. It is called "free speech".

When, at the last Association of University Teachers council, I spoke against the Leeds AUT motion that called on its university to sack Frank Ellis, it was not a claim that academic freedom should protect him, but only that he has a right to consider issues and express his point of view in our society - whether or not the rest of us agree with them.

We all have a right, too, to be sceptical of Leeds AUT's claims. Leeds University has in place policies and procedures that could lead to Ellis's dismissal if it were found that he was abusive to individuals or fell foul of the now comprehensive regulations, laws and policies aimed at attacking improper discrimination.

There is room for a suspicion that a case under those procedures has not been brought, has not been found or is yet proceeding. The clamour, therefore, is either for dismissal on the grounds of Ellis's unpopular views or for dismissal without due process.

If Leeds AUT is calling for Ellis's dismissal, it should be under complaint or grievance procedures within the university's policy.

Andrew Morgan


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