The Devil in the Detail | fanismissirlis A post by Fanis Missirlis on matters arising from our letter: Allen JF, Missirlis F (2012) Queen Mary: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Lancet 379 (9828): 1785. Who guards the guardians? And what happens if meta-guardians themselves have something to hide? Research Assessment and REF What is ‘research output’? Can it be measured? If so,… Continue reading The Devil in the Detail | fanismissirlis
“The Bucket and the Searchlight: Two Theories of Knowledge” from Sir Karl Popper presents two views of knowledge. We advance knowledge in research and disseminate knowledge in teaching. How we undertake these tasks depends on which view we take. The bucket theory underlies many mistakes. Notably in universities. I raised Popper’s essay in two papers published… Continue reading The Bucket or the Searchlight?
What an informative and inspiring edition of BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time, The Photon on 12 February. Steve Jones sometimes refers to biologists as having “physics envy”. I suffer from this. Steve suggests it is because biologists know that physicists are cleverer than they are. Hard to know. However, as a group, physicists… Continue reading In Our Time, The Photon
An Open Letter from York Academics to the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar and Director of Human Resources Who has authority? Who is accountable? And to whom?
What do universities actually do? | John F. Allen's Blog. In my case, this question is no longer purely of academic interest. And what might “academic interest” actually now mean? At the boundary of human knowledge, every new idea is a minority idea. Academic freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Is there… Continue reading What do universities actually do? | John F. Allen’s Blog
A salute to whistleblowers | Peter Cameron's Blog.
A comment on Academic Freedom and the Corporate University by John Holmwood, Jul 4, 2014.
Holmwood’s post refers to a recent blog post by David Browne, Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, a legal firm whose clients include managers at the University of Warwick, famed for overseeing fair play and protecting academics’ right to dissent. To quote Holmwood, Browne “..argued that universities face the problem that ‘high performing’ academics can damage their ‘university’s brand’ by their ‘outspoken opinions or general insubordination’.” Browne’s post, “Getting your teeth stuck into High Performer Misconduct” compares foul play on a football pitch with expressing an opinion. Initially puzzled, I think I finally saw some vague similarity, and wrote the following comment on Jul 12.
If one football player bites another then the referee blows a whistle and calls “foul”. If, in consequence, the referee is disciplined, then he will find it difficult to do his job. If those who discipline him do so covertly, perhaps manipulating video evidence from which independent observers may decide on whether the bite took place, then we begin to see some sort of parallel with recent events in UK universities.
Truth is the primary and overriding concern of members of a university’s academic staff. To suspend or dismiss them on the grounds that their judgement does not find favour with administrators is to negate the reason for the university’s existence in the first place. Academic freedom is not an out-dated perk. No university worthy of the name attempts to prescribe lines of enquiry, nor conclusions reached, in research, teaching and scholarship.
To quote from one institution’s Ordinances:
“Where there is any issue as to the meaning of ‘academic freedom’ in any proceedings under these Ordinances, regard shall be had to Sections VI and VII of the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris on 11 November 1997.”
I’ve recently had cause to consult the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel of 1997.
I recommend it.
The academic, as the referee, must retain the freedom to do what he is paid for.
Otherwise, what do universities actually do?
And what is it that their managers actually manage?
Now with comments. The question remains. “How should they do it?” makes little sense without it being answered.
A university is a community of scholars whose purpose is to advance and disseminate knowledge. Research advances knowledge. Teaching disseminates it. Research requires freedom, supportive infrastructure, cooperation, communication, and trust. Teaching is communication and critical examination of existing knowledge within an open society where nothing is beyond question and where knowledge is thus free to… Continue reading A university is… | Comments welcomed