Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom

Synopsis

The years since 1981 have been one of the three of four lowest points in the relationship between the Universities and the State in 800 years of English history. Conrad Russell looks at the dispute which has implications for academic freedom.

Excerpt

This book was commissioned as a result of the clash between Government and Universities during the Education Reform Bill of 1988. I went into those debates, as a brand new member of the House of Lords, singing the battle hymn of the republic of learning. I was engaged in arguing a passionate single-issue defence of my own profession. Since then, as an active member of the House of Lords, and of the Liberal Democrat Party, I have acquired a foot in both camps. That fact, together with the academic discipline of trying to understand one’s opponents’ point of view, has produced a very different book from the one I would have written in 1988. Those who listen will still hear the battle hymn, but they will hear other tunes too. In particular, the book has been informed by a growing and painful awareness of the very limited amount of money a government could spend if it chose.

The book which has emerged is intended as a contribution to the task of working out new terms of cooperation between the Universities and the State. It is, no doubt, a contribution from one side of the fence, and will be seen among politicians as that. Yet, in any negotiation, the spelling out of opening positions must be a statement of one side’s point of view, however much it may be informed by attempts to understand the rival viewpoint. It is intended as a contribution to a dialogue, not as a series of ultimate answers. The departure of Lady Thatcher, between whom and the Universities there existed a passionate mutual hostility, has made such a dialogue possible, but it has not yet made it take place. The temperature may have fallen, but in 1991, there does not seem to me to be on either side any more understanding of the views of the other than there was in 1988. If dialogue is now possible, attempts should be made to begin it. Much of this book is inevitably written with reference to the present Government, led by John Major, and holding assumptions inherited from the reign of Margaret Thatcher.

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