We’ve written to University of Exeter’s College of Social Sciences and International Studies to warn them that their process for approving courses leaves them open to legal challenge. Academics wishing to propose new or amended modules must demonstrate how their course broadens horizons by ‘moving away from a white, Eurocentric curriculum.’ We believe this is an impermissible restriction on academic freedom. Academics should be free to determine for themselves how the horizons of knowledge can be broadened – whether that means embracing white Eurocentrism, rejecting it, or ignoring it entirely.
The College’s policy goes against Exeter’s previous good work in concluding an ‘Agreement on academic freedom’ in 2009. The agreement, much to Exeter’s credit, protects academics’ right to ‘teach without any interference’, prohibits attempts to force them ‘to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience’, and guarantees them a ‘significant role in determining the curriculum.’
Our letter puts the University on notice that commitments to protect academic freedom have legal force, and should be honoured. We hope the College will reconsider its policy, before any academic falling foul of it brings a claim.
The University replied to us as follows:
We accept these are complex areas and will continue to work with academic staff to ensure their right to academic freedom is protected in line with the University’s academic freedom agreement and our relevant articles of governance. This will include undertaking a full review of our academic freedom agreement during the 2021-22 Academic Year to ensure that it reflects the expectations of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.
We have responded with a freedom of information request to uncover further details about how the policy came about and how it is being implemented.
Read below the full text of our letter to Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter.