Letter: Free within limits 1

January 11, 2002

You commend the idea of a "Filkin for universities" (For the record, THES , January 4) raised during the Association of University Teachers' leadership election. This idea arises in part from the problems of sponsorship by tobacco companies.

At Durham University, where we have an ethical policy that forbids accepting tobacco money, council was once on the verge of forbidding tobacco sales on campus. It seemed hypocritical that the university was refusing money tainted by a dangerous drug yet still selling that drug for profit to the young people the tobacco companies want to hook. We retreated in the face of student insistence that readily available tobacco was part of their "welfare".

I have been keeping the question alive on council. Should I have been able to appeal to a Filkin-style commissioner for university standards? For all the faults of universities, it is a matter of principle, indeed one of the bulwarks of academic freedom, that they be autonomous within their statutes.

An element of external arbitration is vital. This fact has been recognised for centuries, But we will be disappointed if we call for everything to be put right by a single high-profile arbitrator. We need statutes that draw on the modern ombudsman system and on the traditional system of visitors, Of all the ways to stop commercial sponsors running wild, academic freedom is the most vital.

Martin Hughes
Department of philosophy
University of Durham

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