Examination of Witnesses

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 13 Medi 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Professor Eric Kaufmann and Professor Matthew Goodwin gave evidence.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch 3:32, 13 Medi 2021

Good afternoon. We will now hear oral evidence from Professor Eric Kaufmann, professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Professor Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Good afternoon to you both. Thank you for joining us today, and for your submissions. I have several questions to start with. Academic freedom is much referred to, and I have always viewed it as something of a privilege. Perhaps you could describe your definition, and why it has such an important statusQ181 .

Professor Kaufmann:

The right to question received wisdom, the right of academics to question—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am afraid the acoustics in this room are very poor. Do you think that you could speak up as though you were addressing a hall of 500 students?

Professor Kaufmann:

I have not done that in a while. The freedom of academics to test and question received wisdom, including public commentary and extramural speech, is how I would define academic freedom. It needs to be protected to a greater extent, perhaps, than in other professions to allow academics really to challenge convention without risking a detriment. The special thing about universities is that you can do that.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Is that something that you earn as an academic?

Professor Kaufmann:

No, it is something that you have as an academic. It needs to be protected. If it is something that you have to earn, that would suggest that there are two tiers. I think that even a temporary, adjunct academic should have it.

Professor Goodwin:

I would agree. I would define academic freedom as the ability to challenge conventional wisdom, to voice unpopular opinions and to go against the grain without suffering adverse consequences from within your institution.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q This question is for Professor Kaufmann. About 50 years ago, during the Red Lion Square disorders, Warwick University student Kevin Gately was sadly killed in trouble between fascists and a group called Liberation. He was the first person to die in public disorder for 55 years. Does the legislation protect our students of today and tomorrow, to avoid those sorts of confrontations in future?

Professor Kaufmann:

I do not think anyone can predict. That is a public order question and the determination of the risk would have to be made by the police, for example. I think this is quite far from the situation that has given rise to the need for the Bill. It is not really a public order Bill; it is much more about protecting the everyday rights of academics to speak out, speak their beliefs and research without detriment. Yes, if there is likely to be some kind of public order incident, the police will have to give advice on that.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q That protest was about no-platforming, so I think it is related to the legislation—I am not raising a random thing with you. Do you see in the Bill consequences for the future of free speech and hate speech on our campuses?

Professor Kaufmann:

The Bill will have a very important effect. Sometimes the point is missed when we focus in on a few incidents of no-platforming. Really, the big, big issue here is the monumental chilling effect that academics feel: in a UCU-sponsored study, 35% of academics—UCU members—said that they felt restricted in saying what they believe. That is 35,000 academics. In a King’s study, 25% of students claim that they will not say what they believe—that is 500,000 people. We are talking about an absolutely massive problem here, and I think it is very important to get that point across. Issues around no-platforming are the tip of a vast iceberg of chilling effects and self-censorship that I believe is distorting the truth-seeking mission of the university. The university has to be a place where we can pursue truths, even if they go against conventions and mores of the time. The no-platforming incidence is really the crux of the issue, which the Bill will address.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Professor Goodwin, we have heard a lot about self-censoring. I am not an academic or a scholar of Freud, but he suggested that we all self-censor all the time, so what is the issue here?

Professor Goodwin:

I will speak from personal experience to give you an idea. I publicly accepted the vote for Brexit in an environment where only around 10% of academics either supported Brexit or tend to support conservative or right-wing political parties, and that really makes me an outlier. The only reason why I, and colleagues who might hold gender critical views or a more nuanced interpretation of British history, have been able to speak up about some of those issues is because we have often been professors with job security and tenure, and are very difficult to sack.

If you are a junior academic or are on a fixed-term contract, speaking out about issues that go against the monoculture in many of our universities comes with very real consequences, and I know that from the many emails that I have received from junior academics and members of staff at universities who simply feel unable to voice their true views on those issues because they are fearful of what will happen to their careers. Indeed, in some cases—including friends of mine—they have been sacked or disinvited from workshops. As Professor Kaufmann points out, the temptation in this debate is to say, “There are only a few cases. Isn’t this about using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?” When you are looking at rigorous and robust surveys that suggest that one in three academics are self-censoring, that is a very big problem in a country that has long prided itself on having some of the best universities in the world, which are based on viewpoint diversity—being able to challenge, critique and voice unpopular opinions. However, many of my colleagues do not feel able to do that, as you heard last week and as I am sure you will hear this week, as well.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Do you not think that we are all outliers in one way or another?

Professor Goodwin:

When you look at institutions that lean very heavily in one particular direction— 75%, 80% leaning toward the left of the political spectrum— we know from research that those kinds of monocultures also encourage people to become more radical over time; Cass Sunstein, for example, has written a book about that.

However, we are also dealing with institutions that are responsible for the next generation. I would want my students to disagree with me on a whole range of issues, but I would also want them to be exposed to very different viewpoints throughout their university experience: viewpoints on the left, on the right, from above and from below. Ultimately, that is what gives us the ability to think critically and it strengthens our democracy. At the moment, however, we know clearly from the King’s study—I think you are speaking to the author later— that a quarter of all university students in the UK are self-censoring, which is a very depressing statistic.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q You have talked of the fear of many left-wing academics of normalisation, whereby giving a platform to fascists and the like would normalise their views. Whether or not their views become normalised, would you be prepared to see an overt fascist speak on your campus and, if so, how do you think that would square with university management’s myriad duties to student welfare and social cohesion?

Professor Goodwin:

I can speak from personal experience; I have invited people from across the political spectrum to speak to my students over the years. I have had Conservative, Labour and UK Independence party candidates come to speak to students. I would have invited somebody from the British National party or the National Front, were they available.

Those experiences taught me and demonstrated very clearly that students are more than capable of being exposed to a range of different views and of challenging those views, because ultimately we are here to develop critical thinkers; we are not here to put students in ideological monocultures that only give them one view of the world.

One thing I would say, which I think is a very important point for this Committee, is this: if you look at the United States and at levels of trust in universities in America over the last 10 years, you will see that they have declined significantly, as this debate has become very polarised. The last thing that I think we would want in the UK is to repeat that experience, because people are increasingly looking at higher education institutions as being very political institutions—being very lopsided. It would be a great shame if that were to happen in this country.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Professor Kaufmann, I will put a question to you, if I may. In the Policy Exchange report that you co-authored, a very negligible number of academics were ready to support a dismissal campaign; according to my notes, the figure was 12.5%. If so few are willing to support such campaigns, are right-leaning academics’ fears about cancel culture not just a backlash reaction to a general left-leaning academy?

Professor Kaufmann:

That is a really good point: very few academics—only about one in 10—are willing to support a given cancel campaign, which is good news.

The problem, in a way, is that all it really takes is only a very small minority of radical activists to get, let us say, an attack on a gender critical feminist. I mean, these are small, tightly organised networks, but they are able to move mountains because nobody necessarily wants to stand up to them.

Most academics are not in favour of this stuff, but they are also scared to stand up to it, because if you stand up to people who are attacking gender critical feminists, you might be labelled as a transphobe. You are not a transphobe, but by critiquing people who claim to be acting for the benefit of the trans community, you fear that that aura will stick to you. What happened at Cambridge, with Arif Ahmed, is instructive. You have heard from him, and essentially he struggled to get 25 signatures of people who were willing to put something to a vote on whether to change the wording of the university’s policy. Once it was put to the vote, it passed by 80%.

There is a lot of reluctance; people do not want to stick their heads above the parapet. That is the issue that we face. I have looked at survey data on this: an academic individual is actually more pro-free speech than a non-academic individual, when you account for their ideology; a far leftist who is not an academic is less supportive of free speech than a far leftist academic.

The issue, however, is that in the university we have such a skew, because most of these claims of coming from the far left. Because they make up 25% to 30% of academic staff in the social sciences and humanities and because they make up a significant share of students, we are going to see a lot more of these challenges to free speech. It is not because academics are any more anti-free speech than non-academics—in fact, it is the reverse. It is just that it is a function of the ideological distribution of academics. That is why we see more of these events in universities.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Q I have a final question for Professor Kaufmann. Why is it that, as you made clear in your October 2020 article for UnHerd, active mobilisation by representative Government is necessary to reverse critical race theory’s grip on elite institutions? Is not a softer approach more desirable?

Professor Kaufmann:

On critical race theory?

Professor Kaufmann:

I never endorsed any Government action on critical race theory in universities—only in schools where the teaching is compulsory and you have to pass the element. In a university, it absolutely should be taught; people are free to take it and to teach it. It is a different thing: you are dealing with adults. In a school where every pupil has to be taught critical race theory, we have a compelled speech issue, a freedom of conscience issue.

I think critical race theory is a conspiracy theory. I am quite open about that. However, there is high critical race theory, which is interesting, is worth teaching and has some insights. The vulgar critical race theory that is appearing in schools and some diversity training, where they separate pupils by race and say that some are oppressors and some are oppressed, is nonsense. However, in a university classroom, people are free to take what they want and teach what they want. In schools, where we are not dealing with adults and it is compulsory, there is a freedom of conscience issue. I make that distinction very clearly.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q Thank you both for coming in. Professor Kaufmann, in the Policy Exchange paper you co-authored you recommended a statutory tort. I wanted to ask you why you think that that is so important, and how you think it will work in conjunction with the Office for Students complaints scheme.

Professor Kaufmann:

It is important for academics who might find themselves in a situation in which they are disciplined for speech to have recourse against their institution if that institution is not upholding their rights to freedom of speech. The point of the statutory tort is simply to allow an avenue for those with grievances that cannot be met within their institutions. Very often, I am sad to say, many institutions are not doing a successful job of upholding this right for many academics —hence the need for recourse to the court system.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q This is a question for both of you. How do you think that we can best ensure an atmosphere on campus that allows difficult and controversial topics to be discussed while maintaining an inclusive environment?

Professor Goodwin:

From my experience, this debate is already actually beginning to bring about some important culture change. The shift from protecting to promoting is incredibly important. Universities are, by their nature, very bureaucratic organisations, and, once this change gives a signal about the renewed importance of protecting academic freedom, it will have a profound impact on universities. I can speak from experience of my university, the University of Kent, which is already having a vigorous debate about academic freedom and I am sure will emerge as a sector leader in promoting academic freedom. It is reassuring to see the way in which this national discussion is already bringing about change.

For many of my colleagues, who have in some cases been sacked, disinvited, intimated, harassed, undermined and mocked, this piece of legislation is very important, for obvious reasons. We are not talking about small numbers, as Professor Kaufmann points out. I know from personal experience that having the ability to go to an external entity to ensure that cases are explored and examined will play a critical role in ensuring viewpoint diversity within the sector. I think it is already having an impact, and I suspect that, much like the legislation around equalities, we will probably find that within a few years universities will suddenly be arranging league tables of academic freedom and all the kinds of things that tend to come with changes that are brought about by law.

There is a massive opportunity to emerge globally as a leader in the promotion of academic freedom in a debate that is global. The Canadians, the French and the Americans are talking about it, and nobody has really got a hold of it and demonstrated what it means in practice, so I think there is an opportunity for the UK to be that model.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q Professor Kaufmann, did you want to come in on that?

Professor Kaufmann:

I am Canadian, and it is interesting to look at what has happened in the province of Ontario. Ontario and Alberta have both adopted elements of this kind of legislation, and it has been very ineffective because it has not gone the same distance that this legislation has. In the province of Ontario, all universities have to adopt a sort of Chicago principles-style free speech document and issue an annual free speech report, and there is an ombudsman for complaints. However, there is not anything like a director of academic freedom to spearhead the process, so even though there is an ombudsman, that individual is in fact not on board with this agenda. Therefore, when people have made complaints, they have gone nowhere.

It is incredibly important, therefore, to have a director of academic freedom who believes in promoting academic freedom, can see this through and can proactively make sure the legislation is applied. That is an absolutely critical part of this legislation. That is one of the reasons that this is so path-breaking. William McNally, who is a professor in a Canadian university called Wilfrid Laurier, looks at the UK and says, “I wish we could have something like the UK’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.” I think this could very well be world-leading.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Q My last question is to both of you. What is the biggest threat, as you perceive it, to freedom of speech in our universities?

Professor Goodwin:

I think there are multiple threats relating to debates we are having around the role of China; indeed, that was in the newspapers again over the weekend, relating to the University of Cambridge. We also have parallel issues around the ability of gender-critical academics, some of whom you heard from last week, to be able just to conduct themselves on campus without requiring security, which is an incredible state of affairs for anyone to be in. There is also the ability of some of our colleagues in history and psychology to challenge conventional wisdom on issues ranging from the role of Britain’s empire through to intelligence and unconscious bias testing—you name it. All that should be on the table, and we should be interrogating, exploring and examining it. The threats are multi-faceted and are not just coming from one direction. That underlines the need for some action in this area.

Professor Kaufmann:

I would add that even though conservative academics are reporting much higher levels of self-censorship—two to three times as high as the left—it is also the case that this is not just about protecting conservatives. Certain types of left-wing research around the middle east, for example, and Islam will also benefit from this protection. It is worth noting that. In our Policy Exchange study, we had a number of left-wing academics making that exact point. They are worried about some off-campus groups such as Turning Point UK. They are worried about Prevent and discussions around Israel-Palestine, so this Bill will benefit not just conservatives.

Of course, it is the case that political minorities are reporting much higher levels of self-censorship. For example, in the King’s study—you will be hearing from one of the authors later—they asked about the statement:

“Students with conservative views are reluctant to express them at my university”.

Conservative students agreed by a 59:26 ratio. There is a much higher level of censorship and chilling going on for Conservatives, but it is not only Conservatives—certain kinds of left-wing speech are also being chilled. The Bill will benefit both kinds of speech.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

More than half of the time allocated has already been used up. I hope that colleagues will make their questions very brief, in the hope of encouraging succinct answers.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

Professor Kaufmann, you used the words “chilling effect” and “tip of the iceberg”. We heard this the other day from other witnesses. Getting your head around the idea of self-censorship is like having blancmange in your hands. Frankly, there is no firm evidence for it. My problem with the Bill is that it is a very un-Conservative piece of legislation. It is about involving the state directly in the running of universities. You mentioned the director for freedom of speech, and that may be fine, under the present Conservative Government, but, as I said last week—Q

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am going to interrupt, because we are not taking evidence from you. We are trying to invite the witnesses to express their views.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

As you cannot challenge the director, if you had an authoritarian Government, that could potentially be very difficult. The other point, to Professor Goodwin, is on employment: the Bill will not stop academics being sacked. Surely there should be something in the Bill, or some change in terms of employment law, to give protection to those individuals you talked about? Finally, Professor Kaufmann, on the tort issue: does the Bill not open universities up to a huge amount of litigation? For example, the United Front—a front for the Chinese Communist party—operates widely on our campuses today; will it not use the Bill as a mechanism to ensure that it gets across its ideas and arguments, while being possibly well-funded by the Chinese Communist party and Chinese Government? Is there not a danger of giving weapons to our opponents, and doing the opposite of what we are trying to achieve?

Professor Kaufmann:

There are some really good questions there; the one about the state is interesting. It can seem paradoxical that the state is needed to protect individual liberty, but actually it has happened many times in the past. Think of society as three layers, Government, institutions and individuals, instead of two, Government and individuals. The institutions can become illiberal, in which case the Government need to step in to protect the liberty of the individuals. In the United States, in the early 1960s, there were universities that segregated black and white students—essentially barring black students from entering the university, such as at the University of Mississippi. The US federal Government had to more or less step in and desegregate those universities, and they essentially violated the universities’ autonomy to do so. That is an example of where the Government were needed to protect the freedoms of students.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Llafur, North Durham

Q Also McCarthyism, which was the reverse of that.

Professor Kaufmann:

Sure, McCarthyism. All I am saying is: it is not unusual. If you have a corrupt police department or a school that is taken into special measures, government action is needed to protect liberties. This is clearly one of those situations.

I do not think that universities can reform themselves. The pressures on them are simply too powerful. I have seen this up close, as a head of department: in committee meetings, no one will speak up against what is an illiberal policy but will make them look like a racist or transphobe, and so the policy gets through. In the US, they have had speech codes in universities since the late 1980s. There have been complaints about them—they are a violation of the first amendment right to free speech—but they persist because the institutional forces are too strong. You need an outside force to come in to reform the system. Government action is absolutely central to this, and that is why the Bill is so important.

Professor Goodwin:

To keep it brief, I think the Cambridge vote was very revealing. Publicly, you have an academic who struggles to get two dozen signatures, but the moment you ask academics to express their view in an anonymous situation under secret ballot you find that most academics are willing to speak up and challenge the consensus. That is, to me, direct evidence of the chilling effect, and the way in which once you remove the threat of being exposed people are more than willing to challenge that orthodoxy.

If the current system with regard to sacking and dismissal were working, we would not be having this conversation. We would not have had dozens of academics appearing in the newspapers. There was another one this weekend from the University of Bristol who was accused of being Islamophobic. The university had ruled that he was not Islamophobic, but had none the less removed his course in response to student satisfaction.

That is another example of how, to be frank, the broader system needs a good overhaul. We have generated a market-based system that is overwhelmingly skewed around student satisfaction rather than the pursuit of truth and intellectual exploration. If the current system were working, we would not be having this conversation. It is why, on the director of academic freedom, people who are dismissed for, they feel, political reasons need to have somebody to whom they can turn to explore their case and interrogate it.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming today. The Bill speaks of freedom of speech in relation to students as well as staff; however, academic freedom in the Bill is defined in relation only Q to academic staff. Should that definition also include students? I am thinking not only that academic freedom is important generally for anyone at a university, but that some students, such as doctoral students, may also be tutoring.

Professor Goodwin:

My view would be that the protection of academic freedom should apply not just to established academics but, in particular in some cases, to academics who are at the beginning of their career and perhaps on fixed-term contracts, or who perhaps are doctoral students. They are the most likely to self-censor, for obvious reasons. They do not want to irritate their colleagues. They do not want to suffer reputational consequences.

My view would be that it should also apply to students, given that we have around a quarter, if we look at the King’s study, for example—I would add lots of emails from students in my 20-year career of teaching in universities—of students feeling that they cannot speak out about particular issues. I think you heard from Tom Simpson who made that point regarding his experience at Oxford, so I think that students definitely need to be included.

Professor Kaufmann:

I agree with that absolutely.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Thank you. That gives me time for a second question, if I may, Sir Christopher.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton

Q You reflected on the implications of exercising academic freedom. I think Professor Goodwin hinted on the loss of posts by some colleagues. I would be interested if you could reflect a little more on that, because it is a very important issue. Should a right to apply to the employment tribunal be included in the Bill? You said that going to an external entity is important.

Professor Goodwin:

This is how it typically works: a group of students will make a complaint about an academic. They may take that academic’s words out of context. They may imply that something was said that may not have been said—who knows? That academic is typically investigated and, as we saw in the case at Edinburgh recently, they are suspended and asked to leave campus for six weeks or so while the case is investigated. There is a reason why academics says that the punishment is the process. The reputation of that academic is now in tatters. Nobody will hire that academic. His or her chances of getting a research grant are probably minimal, and those of getting published have been severely damaged.

That individual is tainted. We are tainted simply for making some of the arguments that we have made today. The protections and the right to recourse that we give to academics who find themselves in that situation should be as strong as possible. Our entire world is dependent on reputation. Everything we do is under our name. If allegations are made that may even be free of evidence, the onus is very much on the academic to defend themselves against something that often has detrimental consequences.

I personally know many professors, for example, who are on medication to sleep because of the stress and strain that comes with this new culture that we have had. In America, Jonathan Haidt’s “The Coddling of the American Mind” has documented this in detail. From 2010 onwards we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of student protests, and much more robust, assertive activities to try to constrain what can and cannot be said on campus. I will allow Eric to come in.

Professor Kaufmann:

I want to add one thing. The nature of the academic employment market is such that any permanent academic job in a lot of universities will get 100 or 200 applications for each position. To get a position in your field of specialty in a place you want to be is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult. If you lose at it, it is not enough to pay somebody a year’s salary. This is why we need recourse to an employment tribunal that can recommend reinstatement. You need reinstatement, not just a year of salary. A year of salary is not going to cut it when you are unemployable, so it is vital that this amendment goes through.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I am going to ask the witnesses to be as brief as possible, because there are hundreds of things that I would like to ask, but I will try to limit them to just a couple. Professor Kaufmann, in your written evidenceQ , you stated:

“Only in this manner can academics have the confidence that they are protected from ideological opponents who wish to punish them for their views.”

I support you in wanting to protect academics from ideological opponents. How can we ensure the independence of the director of freedom of speech? Interestingly, further on in your written evidence, you refer to an ombudsman system in other countries. How can we ensure the independence of the director of freedom of speech to prevent “ideological opponents” who wish to punish academics?

Professor Kaufmann:

All that the director of academic freedom has to do is enforce the letter of the law.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q Sorry, I am going to quickly interrupt. To enforce the letter of the law, should the director be legally trained? Should they be a legal expert if their duty is to enforce the letter of the law?

Professor Kaufmann:

No, I do not think you need to have a lawyer in there. You just need somebody who understands the spirit of the legislation—it is not too difficult—but who is proactive.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q But they would have to make decisions on where freedom of speech falls between the Equality Act 2010, this piece of legislation and of course the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015. Would you not therefore presume that they should have at least some knowledge of the law if they make rulings?

Professor Kaufmann:

I think their office and the legal advice that they take can guide them. Those kinds of details—

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q So you would expect them to be surrounded by lawyers who could give them legal advice in their role?

Professor Kaufmann:

They could take legal advice, certainly.

Professor Kaufmann:

I am probably not enough of a policy wonk to know where such an individual would sit. Would you contract it out or have it in-house? That is a decision for somebody else to make, but I think that you need to make a legally informed decision that is in alignment with what a court would decide and what the intent of the legislation is.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q You foresee the director making decisions in alignment with what a court would decide, not within a court, so they make legal decisions, but not within a court. Is that correct?

Professor Kaufmann:

No, I think they proactively apply the law so that it does not go to a court. Another system could be to allow everybody to sue, but that is reactive. It is very difficult and expensive to go through these court cases. We have seen that in the US in first amendment court cases.

Professor Kaufmann:

I would much rather be proactive. Also, you need it to be proactive in order to give academics assurance. If they have to sue—[Interruption.]

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Emma, would you please allow some academic freedom to this witness? You may disagree with what he says, but you must allow him to answer your question.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q I will. I would just ask you to be as precise as possible.

Professor Kaufmann:

Of course.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

You are talking about how this director of freedom will have some knowledge of the law but will not be a lawyer, and will make law-based decisions but not in a court. How should they obtain this position, then, to ensure this academic freedom and prevent ideological opponents from being punished?

Professor Kaufmann:

The criteria would involve somebody who is knowledgeable about the sector, who would also be on board with the mission of protecting academic freedom and would care about it. I think those are the two most important qualities for an individual.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q I agree, but how would you foresee them obtaining this? Who is going to appoint them? How are they going to reach this position? As we know, this position is the first time that a higher education regulator will have the power to intervene in student unions. This is a massive expansion of the state’s powers over universities. Who gets to choose who this person is?

Professor Kaufmann:

I wish I were an expert. There has to be some sort of precedent in terms of these bodies. I guess they would be advertised; you would have the criteria. The Office for Students would presumably be involved, and the Government would be involved. That is the best I can give you.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

Q Would you expect the Government of the day to be involved in appointing the director of free speech?

Professor Kaufmann:

Yes, I would. I think it is important that they are accountable to the voters. They need to be sure that the person is upholding the values that are important for this role, because I think there is a problem that sometimes, bodies can be captured by a particular stream of opinion. As we know, this can happen in academia, so you have to have a check on that.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am going to stop this now and ask Gareth Bacon to ask a question, because we have only three minutes left.

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Ceidwadwyr, Orpington

Q Thank you very much, Sir Christopher. This is to Professor Goodwin. I graduated from the University of Kent 25 years ago, and my experiences in Canterbury are very different from what you have described. Do you agree that in a free and democratic society, the best way to deal with views you disagree with or, indeed, find repugnant is to be able to openly challenge them, debate them, and expose their weaknesses in an open debate?

Professor Goodwin:

I do agree. I would just add on the record that most of the problems I have encountered personally have not come from within the University of Kent, but from within the broader higher education sector.

Photo of Gareth Bacon Gareth Bacon Ceidwadwyr, Orpington

Q My final question—I am conscious of time—is to both witnesses, if I may. Both of you, in common with academics who gave evidence last week, have talked about the chilling effect that is going through academia. If the Government were to drop this Bill and take no action, what do you foresee being the long to medium-term, five to 10-year consequences?

Professor Goodwin:

Again, just to revert to personal experience, I would certainly leave academia, and I know that many other of my colleagues would probably come to the same conclusion. I think there are a large number of researchers, junior and senior, who now feel that viewpoint diversity is no longer really in existence or being protected adequately within Britain’s institutions, and that is a very depressing thing for somebody who has spent 20 years building up their academic career to say.

I know for a fact that many of my colleagues no longer feel particularly welcome, safe, secure, or ultimately able to say what they really think, and for every one of me, there are 20 or 30 people behind me who do not feel able to come and speak and voice their concerns as we are doing today. For every Kathleen Stock, there are 50 other gender-critical academics. I had a message from one this morning who is going through a very similar case and is being chased out of a department for reasons similar to those Kathleen raised. The most frustrating thing, just to put this on the record, is for people like me to hear people who are not in higher education say that this is all a myth and that it does not exist. They clearly do not have an understanding of what is happening in higher education.

Professor Kaufmann:

To reiterate, I think that what will happen is that the truth-seeking mission of the university will be warped, because many questions that we need to ask will not be asked and many answers that we need are not going to be given, for career reasons.

On Matt’s point about the idea that this is somehow a moral panic or a new thing, a recent paper by a leading Harvard political scientist, Pippa Norris, called “Cancel Culture: Myth or Reality?”, was published in Political Studies a few months ago. She asked three questions: “Have the following got better or worse in the last five years: academic freedom to teach and research; respect for open debate from diverse perspectives; pressures to be politically correct?” The modal answer, even from left-wing academics, was that those things had got worse in the last five years. For those on the right, the percentage was in the 80s. We have a problem, in that people are saying that it has got worse in the last five years, and the King’s surveys of students found similar. If we do not address this, the truth-seeking mission of the university if going to be severely impacted.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Thank you very much indeed, both of you. We now have to move on to the next session. If any colleagues have complaints about the length of time allocated, I am told that they must be referred to the Whips, as they were the people who dictated that there should be such limited time to hear your expert evidence.