HEA ‘Anti-Racism’ principles may “undermine academic freedom”

The president of University College Dublin, Orly Feely, has been criticised for plans to sign the university up to Higher Education Authority’s (HEA) ‘anti racism’ principles which is set to take place today. 

Lecturer in Philosophy at UCD, Tim Crowley penned an open letter to Feely outlining his concerns that signing up to the protocols which define ‘race equality’ as “equal representation, equal experiences and equal outcomes of staff and students from minority ethnic groups” would have a serious negative impact on academic freedom and freedom of speech at the university. 

In a document explaining the ‘anti racism’ principles, the HEA states that these were brought about with the help of the Athena Swan Ireland Intersectionality Working Group, 

“We understand racism to mean the power dynamics present in those structural and institutional arrangements, practices, policies and cultural norms, which have the effect of excluding or discriminating against individuals or groups, based on their identity, as outlined in Article 1 of the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which provides: ‘…the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life,” it says. 

 The document states that, “inequality” is defined as “unequal representation, unequal experiences and unequal outcomes of staff and students from minority ethnic groups including Travellers,”

Crowley argued that although Feely had previously said that ‘all her instincts’ were “towards academic freedom and also the ability to hear and understand and debate points of view with which you might not agree,” that the signing up to the HEA principles is “extremely disappointing”. 

He linked the “title, tenor, and the supporting materials” of the principles to Critical Race Theory describing it as “a controversial academic movement associated with divisive activist-academics such as Ibram X. Kendi,”

Criticising practices such as ‘diversity training’ which he says studies suggest may only serve to make race relations “worse”, Crowley said success in the university “ought not to be a matter of securing committee consensus for one’s agendas, nor of having one’s ideological demands made mandatory upon colleagues through their embedding into university policy, nor again of enlisting to one’s political causes the university as an activist-ally—but rather a matter of increasing our store of knowledge and understanding.”

He added, “This noble goal, however, requires freedom; and such freedom is available only if the university as an institution maintains strict adherence to institutional neutrality in relation to topical social or political issues.” 

Referencing the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, Crowley said that a university “taking a position on a social or political matter” and “demanding its members support this prescribed view, will chill the environment for free expression and undermine academic freedom,”

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