Campus freedoms under fire

March 17, 2006

Academic freedom is under threat in even the most modern democratic nations, John Sexton, president of New York University, warned this week.

He told a joint meeting of the New York-based Scholars at Risk and the UK's Council for Assisting Refugee Academics that for too many scholars the problem of freedom, or the lack of it, was painfully concrete. But limited finance restricted organisations such as Sar and Cara to the most flagrant and obvious cases.

On a more positive note, Dr Sexton welcomed a $250,000 (£143,000) grant to Sar from the Sigrid Rausing Trust, a $1 million Global Scholar at Risk Fund established by NYU Law School graduate Albert Podell, and a stream of financial support direct to Sar through the Vivian G. Prins Fund for Emigrating Scholars, established with a gift of $3 million.

To mark the launch of a joint Cara-Sar UK Universities Network, Dr Sexton told delegates in London: "Forces outside our gates increasingly threaten the sanctuary of our campuses.

"The very diversity of the global village that enriches us simultaneously activates those, including some holding great power, who would limit the scope of our conversations and silence the diversity of voices. Xenophobes and ideologues seek to influence the research we undertake, the books we write or the classes we teach.

"In the US, research universities are pressured to forgo stem-cell research and pressed to meet externally defined ideological quotas for faculty. And every university president at some point faces external pressure because a speaker deemed 'controversial' is coming to campus," he said.

"Those who care about vibrant debate within the university must resist such doctrinaire approaches - what a colleague has called 'a culture of constraint' - whether from the Left or Right."

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