Today's Guardian reports a hitherto obscure backbench MP attempting to gather the names of all academics at British universities who might be teaching about Brexit. He has apparently written to all University Vice Chancellors in an attempt to obtain these names. You can read the article here. Our Branch Chair, Julia Charlton sent a letter to Northumbria's VC this morning, in response to the news:
I am sure you will have seen this article in the Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/24/universities-mccarthyism-mp-demands-list-brexit-chris-heaton-harris) regarding a Whips letter to Universities seeking information regarding the teaching of matters around Brexit. Neatly ignoring the long tradition of academic freedom that universities consider crucial to their success, his letter asks for a copy of each university's syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit. UCU Takes the matter of academic freedom very seriously, having produced a report this year (available at https://www.ucu.org.uk/academic-freedom-in-2017) on the very same topic. The analysis of normative de facto protection uses comparable data from over 2000 UCU members and 4000 staff in universities of the European states, gathered by means of similar surveys. It demonstrates that the low level of de jure protection for academic freedom in the UK is mirrored by an equally poor (if not worse) level of de facto protection. The reality is that, in the overwhelming majority of instances, UCU members report statistically significantly higher levels of systematic abuse of their academic freedom, across a wide array of measures, than their European counterparts. That being said, this intrusive demand for information goes way beyond what is acceptable to academics. This branch would like to know if you have received such and enquiry and what your response was?
UCU's Head Office has also released the following statement:
24 October 2017
Responding to news that Conservative whip Chris Heaton-Harris MP has written to universities asking for the names of academics involved in teaching European affairs "with particular reference to Brexit", the University and College Union (UCU) said the letter had the "acrid whiff of McCarthyism" about it and called on universities minister Jo Johnson to condemn it. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Our society will suffer if politicians seek to police what universities can and cannot teach. This attempt by Chris Heaton-Harris to compile a hit list of professors has the acrid whiff of McCarthyism about it and Jo Johnson must disown it in the strongest terms. 'Our universities and colleges must lead the way in defending academic freedom, where received wisdom can be challenged and controversial ideas debated.'
Please let's not this witch hunt happen!