Give some respect 2

February 18, 2005

The reaction of some of your columnists to the Durham memo on the teaching of controversial topics illustrates a one-dimensional understanding of "academic freedom" (Frank Furedi, for example).

This concept does not refer solely to the freedom of academics to teach ( Lehrfreiheit ). It is also about the freedom of students to inquire and debate ( Lernfreiheit ).

The protection of student academic freedom is one, if not the first, duty of all university teachers. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Durham episode, we need to be alert to the possibility that in expressing our own stance we do not inadvertently stifle student expression. Research shows that students expect to receive a lower grade if they disagree with their teacher. This reality demands restraint and sensitivity, not just a self-regarding conviction of our own rights of expression.

Bruce Macfarlane
Thames Valley University

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