Why academic freedom must be preserved

18 August 2008

As Australia's universities await the results of a Senate inquiry into academic freedom, Sydney Law School's Dr. Ben Saul puts forward the case for intellectual diversity in an opinion piece in today's edition of The Age.

"Australian universities are already intellectually diverse and vibrant places," writes Dr. Saul.

"Scholarly merit is a core criterion in the appointment and career progression of academics, and there are no barriers to entry for those who do not share a particular intellectual view.

"As in any part of the community, from politicians to footballers, individual cases of prejudice can never be ruled out, but academia is no more prejudiced - and may be less so - than other sectors.

"Universities are founded on the ideals of academic freedom of thought, opinion and expression, and prejudice is anathema to the professional responsibilities of academics."

Dr. Saul expresses concerns about the inquiry, which is considering 'the level of intellectual diversity and the impact of ideological, political and cultural prejudice' in secondary and tertiary institutions, while examining 'the need for teaching to reflect a plurality of views, be accurate, fair, balanced and in context'.

"What is worrying about this inquiry is the potential impact of political interference on academic freedom," he asserts.

"The autonomy of academics and their insulation from political influences is necessary to ensure that they can freely develop independent critical thought and expression and thus contribute new insights to society.

"Academics must, of course, obey the law in a democratic society, but within that outer limit, political intervention should be avoided."

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Contact: Greg Sherington

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