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I’m a lecturer, and I don’t feel I can speak freely any more

Nov 4, 2017 by

As lecturers, we’re supposed to teach our students how to examine arguments critically. How can we do this when we’re accused of bias and stifling free speech?

Last week, a student of mine asked for my political views. They wanted to know what I thought about the decision by University College Dublin students’ union decision to impeach their president, after she withdrew information about abortion services from a university magazine, spawning a national debate on freedom of speech. I am not without personal opinions on these issues: I am pro-choice. Yet I felt I could not speak freely with my student about this.

Instead, I gave her the sort of non-answer that one would expect from a seasoned politician. “There are many sides to this debate,” I said, “and student politics should be the preserve of students.” I felt distinctly uncomfortable giving a mealy mouthed statement that in no way reflected how I actually felt.

For me, university is not a place where I can speak my mind. It is a place where I teach facts, present evidence and introduce a diverse range of other people’s attitudes. I seldom, if ever, make my personal opinions known, fearing accusations of bias and – ironically – of stifling free speech. It’s dehumanising to feel that I cannot be honest with my students. At the same time, I worry that I do them a disservice by failing to engage them in debates that might challenge their (or indeed my own) opinions.

To me, it seems that the dual forces of a consumerist vision of academia and a media pushback against the viewpoints of experts are to blame. Take, for example, news reports following MP Chris Heaton-Harris’ request that universities provide him with a list of tutors who lecture on Brexit. In between arguments about McCarthyism and an alleged remainer bias in academia, many professors responded with grander claims of academic freedom and of the embracing of a wide diversity of opinion in the lecture hall.

Source: I’m a lecturer, and I don’t feel I can speak freely any more | Higher Education Network | The Guardian

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