Academic Freedom Report Completed
The report into the state of academic freedom in New Zealand universities, commissioned by the Association of University Staff (AUS) last year, has been completed. A summary of the report, together with its recommendations, has been released to the media and can be read on the AUS website [www.aus.ac.nz] from Monday 13 March. Dunmore Press will publish the full report later in the year in book form.
Dr Donald Savage, Canadian higher education specialist who conducted the independent inquiry, consulted people from many sectors, including the universities, the government and the parliamentary opposition, the Ministry of Education, the Business Roundtable, the Academic Audit Unit and the Security Intelligence Service. The inquiry was publicised throughout the universities, and staff were invited to raise any related issues.
The report has three main parts:
Definitions of academic freedom
Part A examines and clarifies various definitions of academic freedom
It notes that the institutional form of academic freedom, university autonomy, requires a degree of self-governance necessary for local decision making, consistent with a respect for public accountability.
Part B deals with external challenges and threats to academic freedom and autonomy, including those that arise from the relationship of the universities with central government. Various safeguards and structures to maintain academic freedom and autonomy are suggested. Some of these relate to:
the functions of the new Tertiary Education Advisory Commission;
ownership of the universities;
the funding of research;
controversial teaching and research;
the research relationship between the university and the business community;
institutions’ financial reporting requirements;
developments in the World Trade Organisation; and
the activities of the Security Intelligence Service
Part C of the report deals with internal challenges and threats to academic freedom and autonomy. Recommendations here include:
Universities should consider amplifying the definition of academic freedom in the Education Act with statements of their own, preferably in the collective employment agreement with academic staff.
Emphasis is placed on the distinction between executive and legislative functions within the university and the roles of the governing council, vice-chancellors, deans and other academic administrators are examined.
The statutory role of Vice-Chancellor as sole employer of staff is seen as concentrating too much power in one person and it is recommended that the function should be transferred to the council.
Finally, the report notes that UNESCO, in its recent policy statement on the status of higher education teaching personnel, placed some emphasis on collegial self-government as an essential operational part of academic freedom. It considers that the academic boards provide the key structure for this, notes that they have become increasingly ineffectual, and suggests ways of strengthening those bodies.