The Times Higher Education Supplement today leads with the story that in a survey "some 38 per cent of professors, 45 per cent of senior lecturers and 36 per cent of lecturers said that their academic freedom was under attack."
I wonder whether this is like one of those "80% of 12 year olds smoke, drink, take drugs and have sex every day" polls. Earlier this week I got an email from the journalist who was then writing up the story, asking me if I wanted to comment on the results. I started to reply saying how astonishing I found this, but then thought that I might be missing something and so deleted the email and continued to ponder, which I am still doing, but now in public. Journalistic deadlines and due consideration are not always compatible, sadly.
So, is my academic freedom under threat? Within my research, the only thing limiting my freedom of expression is journal editors turning down my papers the *&%^%& @£@%s, which I don't think counts. I did play a minor role in an empirical study under a consultancy contract which the client has declined to allow to be published, for reasons of commercial confidentiality. But this was agreed as a possibility in advance. I also had a protracted discussion with one organisation about what could or could not go into a newspaper article, but that was not so much censorship as my not wanting to say things that could not be substantiated. What else? Contrary to the comments on one of my earlier posts I don't promote views conventionally regarded as racist, sexist, or homophobic, and so the attempts to silence people in these areas has not affected me, and I cannot believe that it has affected all that many others either. I suppose I would feel rather inhibited in criticising my own university in public, unless, of course, I had very good reason, but I don't think I would have felt any differently 10 years ago.
In my own department the only issue that seems to have come up is when a student society objected to the arguments a retired member of staff posted on his university webspace, and I was caught in the middle of a rather squalid little squabble. Academic freedom won, hands down, but still I suppose that this does count as an attack on it. But the same person was being attacked for his views 10 years ago, 20 years ago and 30 years ago, so no change there.
Do other UK academics have different experiences? And what about elsewhere in the world?