A national ‘great debate’ in England would be more effective than imposing free speech champions and threatening fines, writes Dennis Hayes for Times Higher Education…

You might be tempted to say that today’s announcements from the Department for Education (DfE) indicate that academics in England have lost the war for free speech and academic freedom. It is certainly startling that the government has felt the need to resort to threatening universities and students’ unions with fines if they don’t actively promote free speech. But the truth is that universities never even fought a skirmish in defence of free speech, never mind a war.

Instead, with the exception of some notable individuals, academics passively watched free speech and academic freedom disappear though institutional indifference and fear of challenging the political consensus on campus.

Institutional indifference begins at the most senior levels. This is not an attack on vice-chancellors. Many express strong support for free speech and academic freedom, both personally and in public. What they must ask themselves, however, is whether they know enough about what is happening at lower levels in their institutions to ensure that free speech and academic freedom are upheld…

Read the whole article at Times Higher Education. (Free registration required).

Free speech on universities was also discussed this week on Newsnight…

Professor Selina Todd, Modern History, University of Oxford on Newsnight

Unsure as to the merits of a Free Speech Czar, Professor Selina Todd thinks universities’ commitment to their public duty to uphold freedom of speech needs support – and universities themselves have proven unable or unwilling to investigate and tackle the problem. It would be better if ministers spoke with a range of people involved in academic life, so they would see that freedom of speech is not partisan in terms of party politics. It affects Muslim students fearful of aspects of Prevent legislation as well as scholars who uphold more tradional interpretations of knowledge.

See the full discussion on iPlayer (33 minutes in).