Why we need an academic council 1

January 3, 2003

The Mona Baker affair has produced two victims and one casualty - but none carries the name "Baker". The victims are the two academics Baker dismissed from her editorial board because they are Israeli. The casualty is the standing of academia.

The loyalty of senior linguists (Letters, THES , December 13) who argue that one can "go private" from a profession by practising without the encumbrance of its ethics, is misplaced. Would they accept a hospital retaining a consultant who refused to treat injured Israelis - but only in his private practice?

An academic boycott is an attack on academic freedom.

If Baker is found guilty of professional misconduct, it could lead to dismissal. But her employer, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, would be treading dangerous ground. If the determination of professional standing belongs to the employer, every academic would be at risk. It reintroduces the problem Baker exemplifies: the potential for academic gagging falling to the whim, politics or prejudice of a senior individual.

The answer must be the establishment of a general academic council with an established code of conduct. This would provide an effective basis for individual decisions when faced with suspicious governments, ethically doubtful employers or sponsor demands. It also would provide the wherewithal to resist pressure to act against one's conscience under the subtle intimidation of bright, effective and active political extremists.

Andrew J. Morgan

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