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Academic freedom under threat at British university, major report warns.

Discussion in 'Personal' started by alex_teccy, Aug 4, 2020.

  1. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Star commenter

    A new report by Policy Exchange has found those at Britain’s universities with right-leaning, Leave-supporting or gender-critical views are genuine victims of cancel culture, having to censor what they teach, research and discuss with their academic colleagues. Confirming what we already knew to be true.

    In one of the largest polls of university academics carried out in recent years:

    • 32% of ‘fairly right’ or ‘right’-leaning academics say they have shied away from openly airing their views in teaching and research, versus only 15% of their centre and left colleagues
    • 40% of Leave-voting social science and humanities academics have refrained from publishing or airing views in research and teaching from ‘fear of consequences to your career’, versus only 16% of those who identify as ‘fairly left’
    • Conservative academics are 2.5x more discriminated against when applying for grants, promotion and publishing manuscripts
    • A known Leave supporter faces an 80% chance of discrimination against getting a job when faced by a four-person panel, versus only 17% for centrists
    • Only 54% of remainers would be comfortable lunching with someone who supported Leave, falling to just 37% with someone who opposes admitting transwomen to women’s refuge centres
    Policy Exchange finds that so-called ‘gender critical’ scholars face even more discrimination than conservatives and Leavers.

    agathamorse likes this.
  2. Katzenjammer

    Katzenjammer Senior commenter

    In one of the largest polls of university academics carried out in recent years,,,,,,,

    450,000 people are employed in the HE sector, half of whom are academics - 225,000.

    Only 820 of these were surveyed - a 0.3% sample, so that any conclusions drawn from are guesses, and not even educated ones. More than that, those who claim that discrimination has occurred in either direction, positive or negative, can have no way of knowing if their political views were the determining factor in eg awarding research funds or obtaining promotion. This could only be assessed by presenting identical research proposals or job applications in which the sole difference was the political persuasion of the presenters or applicants. This is, obviously, impossible.

    This isn't research, it is gossip.
  3. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter


    I don't see what they are doing airing political views at work anyway. As a teacher, who would know whether I voted leave or remain? I didn't know much at all about my colleagues political views in general and not at all about the details of such.

    This deserves highlighting for being exceptionally nonsensical. How can you measure "2.5x more discriminated against"?

    When I worked in research in a university, there was no such thing as left or right leaning academics except as known to themselves and maybe close friends and family. Maybe some these days like to highlight their politics as a selling point or for notoriety.

    I suspect it's more of a case that some who failed to progress as they wished are looking to put the blame on something other than themselves by claiming discrimination.
  4. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    Indeed, I have no idea what the political affiliations are of any of my fellow academics. If I’m honest 'despair at the corruption of power' is possibly the most common political position declared which is applicable to any political party.
    Though I would say I meet plenty of pro-remain people, but also leavers. However their political persuasion is not linked to that position.
    agathamorse likes this.
  5. kittylion

    kittylion Senior commenter

    I have heard that people with gender critical views have been no platformed though - being asked to deliver a lecture as a guest and then the invitation being rescinded because people objected. I wish I could find the link.
    agathamorse and LondonCanary like this.
  6. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Lead commenter

    I'm sure some "race realists" have been denied a platform too.

    In any case the report is errant nonsense produced by a right wing think tank to further their agenda.
  7. hhhh

    hhhh Star commenter

    Rowling? I'd also have thought it was relevant to discuss both sides of Brexit, depending what you teach. That doesn't mean preaching for either side, and certainly I wouldn't want to see teachers telling their students which side is 'right'. But as it dominated the news BC, wouldn't it be natural for colleagues to discuss their own opinions in the staffroom?
  8. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Star commenter

    It's certainly not a question of being on the left or right, unless one's instincts are to use applying labels as a form of authoritarianism.

    The self-censorship going on among academics revealed by Policy Exchange’s research is real cause for concern. Universities should not only welcome debate and dissent from established ways of thinking – they should actively encourage it, because that’s how we achieve progress and change. If universities were onlyto allow the regurgitation of the received wisdom, what would be the point of them?

    Rt Hon Ruth Kelly
    Former Labour Education Secretary

    A thoughtful and revealing survey, and deeply disturbing. The very purpose of higher education is to encourage our brightest minds to expand the bounds ofhuman understanding. Dismayingly, it seems that many academics are being guided more by prejudice than by curiosity.

    Trevor Phillips
    Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange​
    WolfPaul and agathamorse like this.
  9. kittylion

    kittylion Senior commenter

    No it wasn't Rowling - it was quite some time ago. Sorry to be so useless.
  10. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    Julie Bindel, Germain Greer, Peter Tatchell., Jenni Murray
    agathamorse likes this.
  11. Katzenjammer

    Katzenjammer Senior commenter

    This has little to do with academic staff at universities.
    Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell and Jenni Murray were "no-platformed" by Students' Unions at various universities, not by academics. Indeed the NUS has voted [about 65% - 35%] for a natonal policy of no-platforming speakers who might tell them things they don't want to hear.
    I find it quite frightening and dismaying that two thirds of the most intelligent young people in the country are so bigoted, narrow-minded, and incapable of debating intelligently with those with whome they disagree. God help us when they are running the show.
  12. BillyBobJoe

    BillyBobJoe Lead commenter

    NUS's no platform policy is not new, and isn't about "don't want to hear" but refusing to enable those who are hostile to some students on the basis of protected characteristics, including gender identity. Recall that campuses are home to many students, some of whom are trans, and they have a right not to want their home used for TERF grandstanding.
  13. Scintillant

    Scintillant Star commenter

    There's no issue here. But of a joke trying to make out there is one. The numbers certainly don't bear it out.
  14. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Star commenter


    If you are going to comment, at least read the report before consigning it to the rubbish bin, there's a good discussion that takes in lots of perspectives.

    The report isn't about schools, it's about universities, there's a difference.
    Nobody, including the report, including the report is arguing that teachers should allow classrooms to be diverted from curriculum content or become platforms for personal opinion.

    That's not the same as saying that teachers should not be allowed to express opinions within schools or to students.

    The report refers to what fields academics study and their freedom under tenure. The report understands that teaching and learning is a dialogical process, which includes listening to a variety of views.
    For university academics that refers to tenure, in the US, the freedom to follow any lines of study without fear of dismissal. (page 20)
    The report emphasizes that freedom is a cross-part concern, although my OP highlights the fact that conservative academics (with a small c) are more in the frame. Attacks from the left tend to come from inside universities and from the right, outside the campus (p 31)

    Page 25 onwards has case studies of no-platforming and the various forms it can take.

    Regarding the methodology used and reliability (my underlining):

    The sample consists of 820 respondents (484 currently employed and 336 retired; average age of current academics is 49 and of those retired is 70). Given the approximately 217,000 academic staff working in British universities in 2018-19, our sample is proportionately many times larger than a conventional opinion survey (typically a sample of 1,500 across a national population of 60m). As such our data has a good claim to being representative of the wider academic population even though, as with all opinion surveys, there is a margin of error in the results.​
    agathamorse likes this.
  15. jonnymarr

    jonnymarr Occasional commenter

    The rightwing defence of 'academic freedom' masks a McCarthyite agenda
    Jonathan Portes
    Are rightwing academics being silenced? The Policy Exchange thinktank says they are – and it has plans for cracking down

    Another day, another skirmish in Britain’s culture war. Once again, universities have found themselves on the frontline. According to a report from the thinktank Policy Exchange, Academic Freedom in the UK, pro-Brexit and rightwing academics are being “forced to hide their views”.

    The report cites a YouGov poll of 820 academics, which found that 32% of those who identify their political views as “right” or “fairly right” have “stopped openly airing opinions in teaching and research”. On the surface, these numbers sound legitimate – but simple statistical detective work tells us that this equates to no more than about 10 academics currently employed at UK universities. The survey has been padded out with a large proportion of retired academics, and the report itself is littered with basic statistical errors.

    This group of 10 or so academics presumably includes the “Tory leaver” respondent who claimed to have been threatened by their university’s marketing department for not “explicitly condemning conservatism as immoral” in a journal article. The poor soul was also told that “remaining impartial” would entail disciplinary action. To be fair, it’s not just leavers who are persecuted; one “centrist remainer” was apparently removed from a programme after they failed to show sufficient deference towards a photograph of Jeremy Corbyn on a manager’s desk. That the authors were apparently gullible or lazy enough to print these responses, which seem to me like deliberate ****-takes, tells us all we need to know about the report’s credibility.

    But while both the report and its recommendations are laughable, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously. One of the authors, Eric Kaufmann, from the politics department at Birkbeck, University of London, recently called on students and others to report academics for engaging in “politically motivated” attempts to “alter the curriculum”. Who will judge whether such alterations are acceptable? None other than Policy Exchange, under the auspices of its new History Matters project.

    It all sounds a bit McCarthyite, doesn’t it? In principle, just about any new addition or minor change to the curriculum could be deemed “politically motivated” – from replacing Shakespeare on the curriculum with Stormzy, to my own attempts, when devising a course on the economics and politics of UK immigration, to inject more sources into the curriculum and develop perspectives from different countries.

    Perhaps the thought police really are stalking the corridors of the ivory tower – but they aren’t the same people that the Policy Exchange report identifies. It turns out that academic freedom is only good when your views are defined as acceptable by a rightwing thinktank with close links to Downing Street.

    Conflicts between politicians (especially, but by no means always, on the right) and academia are nothing new. And given who provides the funding, government and society have a legitimate interest in what academics do, and how we do it. What’s different here, however, is a concerted push by some academics and thinktanks to misrepresent how universities actually work, in order to impose from the outside their own conception of “diversity”, and their own definition, enforced by government diktat, of what is and what is not acceptable. Now that is genuinely “chilling”.

    Leaving this hypocrisy aside, we can all agree that we don’t want legitimate research stifled. But what are we actually talking about here when we speak of “stifling research”? Helpfully, Policy Exchange are not afraid to elaborate. Suppose a colleague of mine at King’s announced that her new research project would investigate the hypothesis that Jews are genetically predisposed to care more about money than non-Jews. How should I respond?

    The report argues that I must assume that she is acting in “good faith”. Since propagating racist beliefs is not a “wise career path”, it’s illogical of me to think that she’s interested in anything other than the noble pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. (It’s worth noting here that Kaufmann has proposed tweaking the new UK immigration system to give white people extra “points”, as well as asking us to consider which aspects of the “white genocide” theory are in fact correct. I can’t help observing that his career doesn’t seem to have suffered.)

    To insulate this researcher from people like me, who might irrationally conclude that the university would be better off without her research, the report suggests creating a new position, a “director for academic freedom” at the Office for Students. They would be empowered to investigate alleged infringements of academic freedom – yet such breaches wouldn’t be confined to somebody suggesting that a certain research topic is not appropriate for a modern university. Suppose you’re just not very good at your job, in the eyes of your colleagues and peers. Could you be dismissed (or even denied promotion) for “low-grade scholarship”? No, according to Policy Exchange. Such a move would be the thin end of the wedge, as “other academics may be willing to let such a judgment be swayed by political disagreement”.

    In other words, Policy Exchange demands that I should be allowed to spend all day ranting on Twitter about my persecution by the leftwing academic establishment (or indeed about the iniquities of Brexit or how VAR has ruined football), pausing only to churn out the occasional article for =18743&tl_period_type=3']UnHerd about how terribly unfair it all is. And, when my colleagues gently suggest that I ought to do some serious research or be replaced by someone who will, the Office for Students will step in to defend me. Maybe I shouldn’t complain – but I can’t see how that can be good news for our universities.
  16. Mangleworzle

    Mangleworzle Star commenter

    123 pages before we're allowed to comment?! dream-on.

    it's a mix of right wing propaganda and bleating.
  17. Katzenjammer

    Katzenjammer Senior commenter

    In which case, BBJ, we need to agree to disagree. I think "refusing to enable" the promulgation of views inimical to your own - at least if it involves actively preventing other people from listening to them - contravenes the principle of free speech. And, as has been pointed out thousands of times on forums like these "If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear" and that is as true of the field of sexual politics as of any other. Where you and I part company is over the matter of the right of transexuals not to have their home turf used for the airing ot views inimical to their way of life; such a right cannot, must not, cancel out the rights of those who wish to hear them.
    I agree that no-one should be forced to listen to views which represent an attack on who they are, and if a speaker is invited on to a university campus to speak against the rights of transexuals [as in your example], then transexuals have a choice - and a choice which they must be free to make. Either they stay away and avoid the distress of direct confrontation, or they attend and demolish the arguments of the speaker with facts, reason and evidence.
    Any "no platform policy" amounts in effect, to people saying that if they don't want to do something, then no-one else must be allowed to do that thing, and I see that as the thin end of an enormously unpleasant wedge. Freedom of speech must be absolute, or it is not freedom, and this applies to one's enemies as much as it does to your friends.
  18. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Star commenter

    How can you know it’s “right wing propaganda” if you don’t want to read it?
  19. burajda

    burajda Star commenter

    The report is a good read. it contains much wider findings than you have chosen to highlight.
    WolfPaul and alex_teccy like this.
  20. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    I think David Starkey's recent racist rant might explain why stifling far right 'academic debate' might be a good thing.....

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