26 May 2023
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Research Finds Culture Of Fear Limiting Academic Freedom Across Kiwi Universities
The Free Speech Union, in conjunction with Curia Market Research, has released its second Annual Academic Freedom Report, which considers the views of hundreds of academics from across each of New Zealand's eight universities. "Academic freedom is indispensable if the university is going to perform its role as the 'critic and conscience of society'. Yet, this report outlines considerable concerns for Kiwi academic freedom and the culture of open debate and research in our universities. It deepens concerns that we have raised for some time about the ability for Kiwi academics to voice controversial or unpopular views", says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.
"A majority of comments from academics reflected concerns about the state of academic freedom, with a clear sense of growing difficulty in raising and discussing a range of issues in the university context. This was seen at all levels of academic discourse, including with colleagues, university management, students, teaching, or speaking in public.
"Many responses referred to a 'climate of fear' and a large number mentioned concerns about job security of barriers to promotion for expressing the 'wrong' views. Across every metric, responses indicate academics feel less free than they did last year.
"Concerningly, this report shows that a majority of academics who responded at five of our eight universities disagreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions, even though this is one of the specific features of academic freedom as defined in the Education and Training Act 2020. Across all eight universities, only 46% of academics agreed they felt free to question received wisdom and state controversial and unpopular opinions. The rest disagreed.
"When asked about their willingness to speak about the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, at least one-third (30%) of academics at every single university said they would feel ‘Not at all comfortable’. Almost half (45%) of academics from Otago were ‘Not at all comfortable’.
"Freedom in the university sector is stagnating, and its leaders either don’t know or don’t care. We need to pay attention and do something- our future is far more bleak without solutions, as disruptive or unexpected as they may be, that move us forward."
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