- There is a widespread perception that academic freedom is under threat, including in the UK. Is this true, and if so, does it matter?
- This paper suggests some Christian principles for valuing academic freedom, before considering the evidence for whether it is under threat and what may be done about this. It argues that although academic freedom exists in name, it is being eroded in practice. While academic freedom is a relatively recent doctrine, it is of great value, and its loss matters for the public good.
- The paper concludes with some proposals.
- Tom Simpson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College. He gained his BA, MPhil and PhD at Cambridge, and between degrees served as an officer with the Royal Marine Commandos for five years.
- Academic freedom under threat?
- Christian principles for academic enquiry
→ Seeking truth honours God
→ Human reason is finite and fallible, so academic enquiry is a shared endeavour
→ Academic enquiry is not limited to the church
- The origins of academic freedom
- Academic freedom as a public good
- How academic freedom is threatened in the UK
→ Marketisation of higher education
→ Impact agenda and contingency of research funding
→ The triumph of identity politics
- Securing academic freedom
→ Permanent, teaching-intensive positions
→ Alternative funding structure for students
- Conclusion: the future of Christian scholarship?
- This is basically a secular piece by a fairly conservative muscular Christian that has been topped and tailed with Christian bits that would hardly have been necessary had institutional Christianity not been so much against academic freedom, and following the truth where it goes, through most of its history.
- The closing section doesn’t make a good parallel between non-conformists in the past and Christians in the present.
- In the past, the non-conformists were a diverse collection of zealots, many of whom were Unitarians or worse (from an orthodox Christian perspective). They also included many very able individuals.
- Relatively few of today’s Christians are either zealots or at the forefront of anything.
- So, it’s difficult to see anything much coming of their setting up a parallel academic system.
- It was interesting to see Peter Tatchell elevated from bogeyman to fellow traveller. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend, even when he’s your enemy.
- Otherwise, the article says many sensible things, pointing out many present evils, though it’s unclear whether these are transient or not.
- Tenure is a method of securing the independence of aristocrats for those without independent means. No doubt this is more important in some academic disciplines than others.
- Separation of teaching from research has many advocates, but many researchers claim to learn a lot from their students, and having to explain things more simply. Also, teaching without researching implies that there’s a static body of knowledge to be passed on, as in the middle ages.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)