Genuine debate and academic freedom…thoughts on 100 academics

April 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

Below is a letter that I have sent to the BELMAS National Council, with a very similar email also being sent to BERA.  These are two scholarly societies that I am a member of in the UK.

I am writing to ask Executive to consider a formal response on behalf of BELMAS to the Secretary of State for Education in relation to his comments following the statement by 100 academic colleagues relating to proposals for the National Curriculum.

Many Council members will have seen the original letter in The Independent . . .

Members may also have read Michael Gove’s response . . .

In my view, the issue for BELMAS, as a scholarly society, is that many of its members (as signatories of the letter, including several Council members) have subsequently been attacked by the Secretary of State in such a way as to be intimidating and a potential threat to academic freedom.  This was brilliantly exposed by Pat Thomson:

Regardless of our individual views about the national curriculum proposals, the letter from 100 academic colleagues, or the letter circulated today by BELMAS, what must concern us all is that genuine academic debate is being stifled.  We all know that educational research, undertaken in universities by independent academics is facing a serious challenge.  There is a debate to be had about our role and contribution to wider society.  Personally, I am happy to encourage that debate. But I do believe it is the responsibility of a scholarly society to defend its members when they are challenged, not in a serious and intellectual manner, but by resorting to shallow misrepresentation and threat. This is dangerous for academic freedom, and more widely, for the democratic health of our society.

I would therefore like to ask Executive to defend its own members and provide a response to the Secretary of State that takes him to task for the way in which he responded to colleagues’ legitimate concerns.  This is not about the merits of the government’s proposals (about which individual members will understandably have differing views), but it is about a scholarly society defending members’ right to express views in public without fearing it may, for example, be prejudicial to their careers. In my view, standing up for academic freedom should be one of the basic functions of any scholarly society.  I hope therefore my proposal is not considered contentious and can be supported by Council.


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