Free speech is sedition for some 1

January 5, 2007

The debate about what is "lawful" or "within the law" in the context of academic freedom of expression rests on the well-worn phrase from the "Jenkins amendment" to the legislation that gave birth to the model statute, ("Scholars demand right to be offensive", December 22/29).

How does the law balance an individual's right of freedom of expression against the rights of others, including the state? A chapter I contributed to The Law of Higher Education attempts to answer this and related questions of individual and institutional autonomy. The freedom of any citizen, including academics, to criticise the state or express unpopular views has over the centuries been limited in all sorts of ways, examples being inciting treason, mutiny or sedition, "glorifying terrorism", inciting racial hatred, misusing computers, defaming one's colleagues and more.

We are hemmed in on all sides. Moreover, Dennis Hayes is right when he points out how qualifying freedom of speech to a specific discipline is comforting to so-called university managers who obviously have not read or understood the Unesco declaration ("Verbal brawling is just what the academy needs", December 22/29).

On the other hand, academics are protected by "whistleblowing" legislation and the - arguably ill-considered - provisions of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, designed to enable rightwingers to have a platform for their views.

Until the courts decide what is within the law for the purposes of the academic employment contract, it will be impossible for any of us to draw the line over which some academics may have stepped. Who will come forward to test this?

Dennis Farrington
Pro rector, South East European University, Republic of Macedonia

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