“Established by Royal Charter; accountable to Parliament”.
In a British University a Professor can be sacked for failing to obey instructions of persons with neither interest in, nor understanding of, research and teaching; who have accordingly achieved little or nothing of academic distinction themselves; and who waste one’s time. “Managers”, unelected and unaccountable, may, of course, have ulterior motives. For some reason, however, they are hostile to questions about what it is they hope to achieve. The most one can hope for are vacuous terms such as “change management”. “To what end?” is a question that remains unanswered. It is as if no thought has been given to the question what do universities actually do?
Academic Freedom is under even greater threat from the UK’s Higher Education and Research Bill. Academic Freedom has already disappeared within some UK universities. Academic Freedom has high priority in Statutes and Ordinances, which read as if a legacy from more enlightened times. In practice “management instructions” now have higher priority, and over-ride informed individual judgment. Management Instructions are enforced by “Human Resources” who thus breach their own Codes of Practice. Management Instructions are upheld by application in Employment Law. Academic Freedom is not.
With freedom comes independence. It will be helpful if we seek to be clear that what matters most is Academic Independence. Managers who destroy lives and careers also obstruct fields of enquiry – closing off progress within the institutions under their control, and more widely where their targets would otherwise have made important and original contributions.
Independence of members of an academy or university is vital for the same reason that it is vital for a judiciary. Academic Independence distinguishes one’s teaching from salesmanship, and one’s research from propaganda. It is the name of the game.
Without Academic Independence, what is left of a university?