Universities are a space where the possibilities of the future are charted and realized, where the nature of the present is subjected to rigorous examination and debate, and where the past experiences of humankind are preserved, better understood, and creatively interpreted. The principle of Academic Freedom is at the heart of this process.
Speaking at NUI Maynooth’s recent conference “Perspectives on Academic Freedom” Dr Terence Karran from the Centre for Educational Research and Development at the University of Lincoln explained that “academic freedom relates to the freedom to create new knowledge by undertaking research and publishing the results and then disseminating this knowledge to students in the classroom - with the caveat of not introducing information which has no bearing on the subject”. Thus, within an economy based on knowledge, universities have a unique and important role. “In order to maximise the possibility of new knowledge emerging”, Dr Karran continued “the knowledge economy, requires more, not less, academic freedom.”
Academic Freedom allows a stable platform from which to pursue research, even when the benefits of such work may not be immediately apparent or measurable by accounting procedures with relatively short time horizons. Dr Karran made the point that “without the benefit of academic freedom in the conduct of research, major scientific discoveries, which have irrevocably altered society, would not have been made – Russell’s Principia Mathematica, the Discovery of DNA, the World Wide Web.”
Speaking at the conference, Professor Rowena Pecchenino, Dean of Social Science and Head of The Department of Economics, Finance and Accounting at NUI Maynooth commented that “Central to the functioning of a university is the concept of Academic Freedom and its institutional expression in security of tenure. Indeed, it is the security of tenure which allows universities to perform their essential duty of service to society as a whole and to fulfil the obligation to make students socially, economically, civically and culturally aware, a point stressed by Prof Kathleen Lynch, Professor of Equality Studies at UCD, a panellist at the conference.
Academic Freedom, essential though it is to all aspects of academic, civic, social and cultural life, is under threat. These threats, discussed by Eric Barendt, Professor Emeritus of Law at University College London, come from funders and sponsors of research both in the private and public sector, from data protection laws which make both medical and social science research concerning identified individuals more difficult, from Freedom of Information Laws that compel early release of data, and from libel laws that can silence the free exchange of differing views on published research. Professor Barendt rightly stressed that it is important for academic freedom to be recognized as a fundamental value and taken into account in interpreting legislation and common law.
Professor Pecchenino concluded that “The lesson of history is clear: without Academic Freedom, free inquiry is hampered, the quality and scope of university research is compromised, the opportunities for teaching and learning at the core of the university are severely curtailed, and society is economically, socially, civically, and culturally impoverished.”
Dr Terence Karran, Centre for Educational Research and Development, University of Lincoln, speaking at “Perspectives on Academic Freedom” at NUI Maynooth
For further information please contact: NUI Maynooth Communications Office 01 708 6735
Academic Freedom Ireland