May 2009

“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” (John Donne; Meditation 17). Similarly, when an academic speaks it is with their own authority, and not as an “official spokesman” for their university unless they explicitly (and officially) claim to do so. Of course, any academic is always associated with their institution(s) and it is this association in part that legitimates the greater weight given by many in society to their statements. But the claim by UEL (University of East London) that it had good cause to suspend a professor over comments he made in advance of the G20 summit in London in 2009 (and the protests expected to surround it, which they did) regarding police expectations and violence because “the comments brought the university into disrepute” is utterly specious. These statements by university managers are reported in a recent THE article regarding a subsequent case between the professor and the university on which I make no comment here. What I find utterly abhorrent is the idea that any statement made by an academic could lead to a suspension on the grounds of “bringing the university into disrepute” unless that statement can be found to be factually inaccurate or an illegal statement (such as incitement to violence). And then the suspension should only happen after a suitable process (in the case of illegal speech, that process should be the conclusion of a court case). No academic speaks for their university rather than themselves unless they are officially and clearly doing so. The assumption when any academic speaks is that they are speaking as an individual academic. (more…)

In the 30th April 2009 issue (1,894) of the Times Higher Education magazine, Prof Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford Unviersity wrote an ill-considered and wrong-headed attack on digital communication in general and on Open Access in particular titled Those who disseminate ideas must acknowledge the routes they travel. (more…)