Thomas Docherty’s lecture on “Academic Freedom and the Social Responsibility of the University Institution” took place on 14 October 2015, at Royal Holloway, University of London. The poster advertised what amounted to a stimulating account of the necessity of academic freedom for any institution that qualifies, in my view, for the name “university”. Thomas also described current attacks on academic freedom, possible motives behind them, and their dire consequences for teaching and research.
I joined the Council for the Defence of British Universities on day one. It seemed, and still seems, to embody pretty well all the values whose implementation make universities essential to the maintenance of a free society. Last year I asked here What do universities actually do?
To my knowledge, those working at “change management” in UK universities have no answer. If we could inspect alternative aims and objectives then it might be possible to understand what exactly those currently on the rise are trying to achieve, thus to engage with them in useful dialogue. Thomas’s thesis, as I understood it, is that the aim of managerialism is precisely to prevent dialogue, and thus to silence dissent. Is there is an ulterior motive to that, or is the whole mess an unintended consequence of control having been acquired in some way by individuals averse to criticism, and hostile to public knowledge and social responsibility?