Academic freedom under threat, says report

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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 report from Sage.

The report focuses on how some universities, once centres 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, while in one case study reported on from Turkey a lecturer received death threats for writing an exam question. Another case study from Ukraine reported on a national committee calling lecturers before it who were not seen as patriotic enough in their teaching.

In the latest issue of Index on Censorship, published by Sage, 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 signalled 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.'

Index on Censorship editor Rachael Jolley said: '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. 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.'

Speaking about the report, author and Sage's global publishing director, Ziyad Marar, added: 'Freedom of expression is undermined in many contexts, but there is something particularly disturbing about seeing this happening on campus. Academic freedom is a necessary condition for the vitally important work of scholarship and education. And campuses should be places where ideas jostle noisily with each other, rather than being chilled into silence.'

See the list of signatories here.