An informal meeting open to academic staff in Irish higher education institutions took place in Dublin on January 22nd where over 200 academics were present from the majority of Irish third level institutions.
University and college staff were brought together to discuss the future of academic freedom arising from the controversial implementation of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014 (the ‘Croke Park agreement’), which had been sent to all the academics by UCD’s Governing Authority.
They voiced their fears that economic pressures, government policies and university management priorities might lead to a change in the terms of employment of university faculty.
Professor of Philosophy, Dermot Moran, shared his concerns, ‘I have been a full professor in UCD for the past 21 years and I have to say I am deeply dismayed by the recent efforts of some of the management in UCD, acting unilaterally.’
The call was launched by former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, Paddy Healy, who said in his opening address: “Citizens have a right to objective information on the content of food products, the safety of structures and other engineering systems, on pollution of the environment, on aesthetic matters and on health issues. Academics must retain the unrestricted right to give this information.”
The Academic freedom is protected on the legal field by section 14 of the Universities Act 1997, which states that ‘a member of the academic staff of a university shall have the freedom (…) to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions and shall not be disadvantaged, or subject to less favourable treatment by the university, for the exercise of that freedom.
A lecturer at the School of Mathematics, Dr. Thomas Unger – does not unilaterally reject the idea of industrial research partners. Yet he claims that the partnerships must respect the independence of academic staff; there must be no question of suppressing unwelcome research outcomes or impeding the development of knowledge as has happened in a number of cases abroad. The consequences for Irish universities will be significant and damaging such as a potential exodus of the top academics.
As a result of the meeting it had been decided that a petition would be launched in each institution, which aims at calling on the Governing Authority to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and ensure an effective protection of the tenures.