Threat to academic freedom 'will mean war'

May 21, 1999

Alison Utley reports from last week's Association of University Teachers summer council in Scarborough

University authorities are plotting to launch a new and damaging attack on academic freedom, according to David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers. He warned members that a new war was on the cards.

Mr Triesman told the AUT summer council that "we will see a frontal attack on the statutes of universities this autumn because defence of academic freedom is getting in the way of managerialism.'' He said the attack would be led by hostile personnel managers.

Afterwards, Mr Triesman said academic freedom formed the cornerstone of values that held together higher education and yet some authorities perceived the statutes protecting them to be an impediment. "They believe they get in the way of their plans to get rid of 'superfluous' members of staff," he said. "This will create a war."

Mr Triesman added that some people believed the research assessment exercise threatened academic freedom. "What I fear we may see are proposals that do not threaten so much as kill off academic freedom. If anyone makes such proposals, they had best understand they are seeking a war with us."

The Scarborough council meeting agreed to undertake a survey to determine the extent of managerialism across the sector. David Edwards of Loughborough University said: "We ignore this at our peril." He said there was a tendency for universities to become public limited companies rather than places to express alternative views.

"We should encourage everyone to resist managerialism," he said. "We should go for the top committees, because bad management does not like being embarrassed in front of lay members who should be made aware of what is going on in our universities. We can't do this by chipping away, we need to fight."

Paul Hudson, a member of the AUT executive, agreed. "These people are ashamed of what they are doing, and if we make it public they will back down," he said.

Sandi Golbey of Nottingham University said she knew of three different managers whose heads of department were begging them to employ staff on fixed-term contracts. "They regard the statutes as cumbersome," she said. "It is ominous that our managers' first instinct is to make sure they can get rid of people."

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