Dutch university rectors have issued a threat to academic freedom

Academic freedom is not an academic version of the right to free speech. It is a relation between an employer (the university) and its employees (teachers and researchers) that exists to ensure that teachers and researchers can do their job in accordance with evaluative criteria set by their peers and unhindered by forms of power, whether these are wealthy trustees, university boards, dominant professors, corporations, or politicians and the state. The main vehicle for safeguarding academic freedom as it developed in the last century is tenure. Academic freedom, then, has been under attack for a much longer time, since universities have over the course of decades moved to a significant number of flexible staff, who will be less likely to speak out against power if their new contract is pending. With the recent letter, a new threat to academic freedom has been issued. It is now clear that university administrators see the state as ultimate arbiter in matters concerning the academic community. Emphasising academic freedom and, in the same piece, suggesting that they will only cut ties “when our government advises us to do so” is a laughable contradiction and intellectually dishonest. With an extreme right government in the making, this political servility bodes ill. What other demands by the state will cause universities to yield to political pressure? When will they show a spine? What lessons does history teach us? Recent history, we are sorry to say, teaches us that the only times university boards are ready to confront government are when money is concerned. They’ll do anything to ensure more research funding and to protest cuts.

Willem Schinkel in Dutch university rectors have issued a threat to academic freedom (Erasmusmagazine.nl)