Proposed redundancy seen as attack on academic freedom provokes anger

Dr David Harvie’s proposed redundancy over the content of his research has been called an attack on the principle of academic freedom, by fellow academics.

Dr Harvie, an Associate Professor in Finance and Political Economy, is one of 16 members of staff facing compulsory redundancies in the School of Business at the University of Leicester (ULSB), as part of the wider disinvestment proposals.

Dr Harvie posted a copy of an email on twitter, sent from the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Edmund Burke, dated 19 April, which stated:

“You have been placed at risk of redundancy because of an initial assessment that your research activity is not aligned with ULSB’s proposed future strategic direction.”

The email also stated that the university believes that this “does not breach the principle of academic freedom.”

The Leicester UCU branch has said that the university’s plans to disinvest from Critical Management Studies and Political Economy has “grave implications for academic freedom”.

This email was meet with condemnation by fellow academics from both within the university and outside as an attack on the principle of academic freedom.

You can find the tweet here

Peter Armstrong, who was recently threatened with the removal of his Professor Emeritus title by the university, replied to Dr Harvie’s tweet:

“That’s ridiculous. You are employed to use your best judgement as to what research will best advance your field. You choose to research a certain topic in a certain way.

“They want to dismiss you for it. How is that not a denial of academic freedom?”

Dr Harvie said that this is “a clear case of an attack on academic freedom. I think employment tribunal only becomes an option if we are in fact made redundant”, in a post on twitter earlier this year.

Concerns were also raised about the content of the email by Dr Ronald Hartz, lecturer of Organisation Studies, and Professor Nick Hartell, chair of Neuroscience.

Dr Hartz said on twitter: “It is worth noting that many of us received more or less the same letter.”

Professor Hartell added to those concerns by posting: “How is it possible for a different panel of three people to come up with the same unanimous arguments.”

A University of Leicester spokesperson said:

“The University of Leicester is proud to be a leading research-intensive university, and our pioneering work has helped shape the understanding of our world through discovery and endeavour.

“Our proposals for change are underpinned by our ambition to deliver an exceptional educational experience for all students and staff, now and in the future.

“In order to achieve this, we must ensure that our research activity reflects our strategic priorities, and some changes are required to enable us to achieve this.

“We are clear that this does not in any way conflict with academic freedom, nor are any of the proposals related to individual performance or affiliations held.”

Toby Cray is a second-year journalism student. You can find him on Twitter here

Image taken by LSM member Ollie Monk @britwithacamera

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