A government anti-racism pledge for universities runs the risk of endangering academic freedom, a lecturer has warned. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)


Irish Government’s anti-racism pledge could ‘undermine academic freedom’


An Irish Government’s anti-racism pledge for universities runs the risk of endangering academic freedom, a lecturer has warned.

Dr Tim Crowley, a lecturer in ancient philosophy at University College Dublin (UCD), has warned that his college’s decision to sign up to the government’s “Anti-Racism Principles for Irish Higher Education Institutions” could have a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech.

Penned by Ireland’s Higher Education Authority, the pledge mandates that universities back achieving “greater ethnic diversity among students” while tackling so-called “microaggressions”.

It also includes a line forcing universities to promote “anti-racist policies and actions across broader Irish society”.

Writing to UCD President Orla Feely, the lecturer said that he was “disappointed” by her announcement she was looking to sign the document on behalf of the university.

Crowley went on to cite a report from the University of Chicago which, he says, “warns that taking a position on a social or political matters by the university, and then demanding its members support this prescribed view, will chill the environment for free expression and undermine academic freedom”.

“A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community,” he said.

“It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby … it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness,” he added.

“There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.”

Speaking to Brussels Signal, advocacy group Free Speech Ireland also expressed concerns that the pledge could have a chilling effect on academic freedoms.

“Universities should be an open space for the battle of ideas. A place for the most pressing and important issues of our time to be debated,” a spokesman for the group said.

“The University subscribing to this deeply charged understanding of anti-racism is deeply disconcerting within the context of widespread clampdowns on freedom expression in Ireland,” he added.

“It’s vital that universities endeavour to cultivate an environment for free expression and academic freedom.”

Warnings over the threat to academic freedom posed by the document appear to have fallen on deaf ears, with Feeley signing the government document regardless.