University lecturers are being verbally threatened, losing their jobs for voicing opinions, and even receiving death threats as academic freedom comes under threat around the world, according to a special report in the latest issue of Index on Censorship.
The magazine’s special report highlights how academic freedom is being abused across the globe. Ahead of the publication in mid-June, with reports from Mexico, India, the USA, UK, and Ireland among others, leading academics and influential authors worldwide have signaled their concern by signing a statement:
We the undersigned believe that academic freedom is under threat across the world from Turkey to China to the USA. In Mexico academics face death threats, in Turkey they are being threatened for teaching areas of research that the government doesn’t agree with. We feel strongly that the freedom to study, research and debate issues from different perspectives is vital to growing the world’s knowledge and to our better understanding. Throughout history, the world’s universities have been places where people push the boundaries of knowledge, find out more, and make new discoveries. Without the freedom to study, research and teach, the world would be a poorer place. Not only would fewer discoveries be made, but we will lose understanding of our history, and our modern world. Academic freedom needs to be defended from government, commercial and religious pressure.
Supporters include: actor Simon Callow, authors Monica Ali, Kamila Shamsie, Christie Watson, Julian Baggini and Ziyad Marar, and academics AC Grayling, Jim Al-Khalili (University of Surrey), Thomas Docherty (University of Warwick), Michael Foley (Dublin Institute of Technology), Adam Habib (the vice chancellor of University of the Witwatersrand), Max Price (the vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town), Kenyan poet Philo Ikonya, Jean-Paul Marthoz (senior lecturer Université Catholique de Louvain), Esra Arsan (Istanbul Bilgi University), Richard Sambrook (Cardiff University), Donald Downs, (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Alan M. Dershowitz, (Harvard Law School), Alice Dreger (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) and Laura Kipnis, ( Northwestern University) and Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). A full list of signatories appears on the Index website.
Index will also be hosting a debate, “Silenced on Campus,” in London on July 1 with panelists including AC Grayling, Julie Bindel and Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK.
The report appearing in Index focuses on how some universities, once centers of open and vigorous debates, are taking steps to avoid controversial subjects being discussed, or suggesting classes should fall in line with an imposed national position. In one case study reported on from Turkey, a lecturer received death threats for writing an exam question, while another case study from Ukraine reported on a national committee calling lecturers before it who were not seen as patriotic enough in their teaching.
“Education opens up all sorts of avenues of discovery, but if we start closing some of those roads off, arguing they are too dangerous, or challenging, or hold possible stress, then we are heading off in a terrifying direction,” said Index on Censorship editor Rachael Jolley. “The range of signatures from countries around the globe show just how far and wide the fear is that academic freedom is, in 2015, coming under enormous pressure.”