President of UCD, Andrew Deeks has defended academic freedom in the wake of “a number of recent events” in a recent President’s Bulletin. These comments emerge after a slew of ‘recent events’ brought the principle and its status in UCD to the fore.
Most recently, UCD Professor Dolores Cahill organised and spoke at an anti-lockdown “gathering” on St. Patrick’s Day. Commenting that “there is no such thing as asymptomatic carriers” and suggested that enforcing the wearing of face coverings will mean “children will not reach their IQ potential because they are not getting the oxygen [that their brains need]”. UCDSU has since called for a college investigation into Cahill’s attendance to determine if her activities constituted “gross misconduct” under the Universities Act 1997.
In addition, last April, UCD abandoned an addendum to the current policies that wanted to “consider and appraise the risk of tension arising between the obligations regarding academic freedom and the strategic imperative to internationalize higher education.” Reactions were swift and harsh, with one professor, Professor Wolfgang Marx, stating “either UCD has [academic] principles or it does not, and they can’t be limited by geography.”
In December, the University met opposition concerning an article written by Professor Richard Maher on the potential national security implications of Huawei in Ireland. Tony Yangxu, Huawei Ireland’s chief executive, wrote a letter to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and the Department of Defence, criticising the article and writing that Huawei is “a strong supporter of the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression” but that this was “a two-way street.” Writing in response, David Farrell, head of UCD Politics, condemned “this attack on academic freedom”.
Deeks’ bulletin goes on to remind readers of the academic freedom policy in place in UCD. The core of these protections come from the Universities Act 1997, which states that “a member of the academic staff of a university shall have the freedom, within the law, in his or her teaching, research and any other activities either in or outside the university, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions and shall not be disadvantaged, or subject to less favorable treatment by the university, for the exercise of that freedom.”
Deeks notes the limitations of the principle which “does not protect academics from criticism, counterclaims or other refutation of their opinions by other academics, individuals or organisations.” Concluding the statement with “academic freedom does not provide license to act illegally.”
Sarah Eiland – Reporter