Academic freedom – the belief that a free exchange of ideas is essential to learning and progress – must be the bedrock of higher education.
Censorship of what could or should be taught in classrooms curbs debate and undermines learning.
Academic freedom is central to a university education, and to broader issues of intellectual progress and development. Free and open expression and exchange of knowledge produces new ideas, fosters debate and gives students the opportunity to come into contact with new perspectives they have never encountered.
It would be difficult to imagine a university successfully challenging its students without freedom to determine its own curriculum, teaching and assessment.
Academic staff must also have the freedom to say, think, research and teach without fear of a government (or political) backlash, or negative repercussions from university management. Academic freedom works because university faculty members are professionals that understand their responsibilities to each other, their students, and the wider community.
This freedom is under assault in Australia, and could lead to great damage of our education institutions and the role of academia and scholarship. The culture wars are not yet over!
There is little (if any) evidence of serious or systematic bias in our university class rooms. Despite accusations of the pervasive influence of 'left-wing radicals' in lecture theatres and tutorial rooms, there is nothing to prove that this exists. Instead, it is academic staff that have bore the brunt of attacks on their professionalism, and integrity. Universities have become increasingly concerned about budgets, costs and private sector funding.
Attacks on academic freedom are unacceptable and serve to distract from the real problems of underfunding, workloads, stress and poor pay.