The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with Curia Market Research and endorsed by their director and head pollster, had hundreds of participants from across each university.
Concerningly, this report shows that a majority of academics who responded at five of our eight universities disagreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions, even though this is one of the specific features of academic freedom as defined in the Education and Training Act 2020.
The rest disagreed. Men in particular, (59%), believed they were not free to voice these views.
Claims that those who were more senior (and therefore supposedly more secure) in roles, such as professors, were freer to speak on controversial subjects did not play out.
In fact, only 31% of professors agreed that they were free to state controversial or unpopular opinions. If those who have dedicated their careers to exploring specific subjects feel unfree to voice their views if they are unpopular or controversial, how can these conversations move forward?
Popular and uncontroversial perspectives are not going to cut it.
Problematically, it is clear that the flow of political persuasion mapped almost directly onto whether academics felt free. About two-thirds (64%) of academics who identified as “very left” and 70% of those who identified as “left” felt free to state controversial or unpopular opinions.
It decreased from less than half (46%) of those who are “slightly left” to one-third (34%) of those who are “centrist” down to one-quarter (26%) of those who are “slightly right” to 18% for those who are “right”. No academic who responded as “very right wing” agreed with the statement (admittedly, there was a small sample size for this group).
This, in the context of an academy that we already know has a left-leaning bent (the respondents to our survey reflect this disposition), is frightening for intellectual diversity.
Academics were asked about six specific subjects which might be controversial; a majority of academics felt comfortable discussing only three: religion, politics, and sexual orientation.
Some 59% of academics did not feel comfortable discussing the Treaty of Waitangi and colonialism, with at least one-third (30%) of academics at every single university feeling “not at all comfortable” (45% of academics from Otago were “not at all comfortable”).
Interestingly, Māori academics were much more likely to feel comfortable discussing this issue (54% felt “very comfortable”), while almost two-thirds (61%) of European academics did not feel comfortable (44% “very uncomfortable”).
When one sector of society feels they are free to participate and contribute to a discussion while another does not feel free at all, we all lose.
No matter who it is that is included/excluded, we will not develop the answers we need to address complex questions if major stakeholders are not free to participate.
Time and again in our past, important voices in our communities have not been free to contribute. To knowingly repeat this error again is folly.
These results are concerning, but the lack of engagement with research like this, and the problem they point to, is even more concerning.
Results last year indicated many academics do not feel they have adequate academic freedom. Each vice-chancellor was invited to participate in the research this year and learn from the responses of their own academics. Not a single one agreed.
Likewise, where is the Minister of Education on this issue? Where is the Tertiary Education Union or the Tertiary Education Commission?
Freedom in the university sector is stagnating, and its leaders either don’t know or don’t care......The full article is published HERE
Jonathan Ayling is the Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.