Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Frank Furedi on academic freedom

There is a new article by Furedi on the Spiked website. In it he argues that academic freedom is a deeply unfashionable concept and that the threat to it comes from within the university as much as without. He points to ethics committees, learning outcomes and the fear of giving offence through one's language.

This last point interests me as it chimes with my concerns about the Standards Board for England, originally posted here.

Anyway, here is Furedi:

That academics are expected to work within such a code, which explicitly demands that the pursuit of knowledge and expression of ideas should be restrained by the need to spare the feelings of others, is a symptom of our times. Such censorious speech codes have been institutionalised through the UK, without any serious opposition from staff or students. Once upon a time, instructions on the use of language were for schoolkids; today they are aimed at restraining the speech of the academic.

Of course words can offend. But one of the roles of a university is to challenge conventional truths - and that means academics questioning the sacred and mentioning the unmentionable. A proper university teaches its members how not to take hateful views personally, and how not to be offended by uncomfortable ideas.

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