Academic Freedom Committee statement

17 May 2016 | Story by Newsroom

On 22 April 2016, Daily Maverick published a letter entitled “Appeasing the UCT Taliban”, written by Dr Kenneth Hughes, a retired UCT academic who teaches, on a voluntary basis, in a course called History of Economic Thought in UCT's School of Economics.

A group designating itself as Decolonise UCT Economics condemned Dr Hughes' letter and successfully disrupted a lecture that Dr Hughes was due to give the following Monday. Subsequent lectures that week were not given live to the class but were recorded and made available online. There were also calls to have Dr Hughes removed as a lecturer on the course.

It is not the place of the Academic Freedom Committee to comment either on the content of Dr Hughes' letter or on the opinions of those who disagree with him, and this statement offers no view on either of these matters. However, we condemn in the strongest terms the violations of and threats to the academic freedom of Dr Hughes, his students and the School of Economics.

The appropriate response to views of which one disapproves is the expression of alternative views. These may include condemnation of unethical speech. However, conflicting interpretations about what does or does not constitute racist speech are resolved in debate rather than in demands for the suspension of lecturers. Demanding the suspension of those with whom one disagrees is a threat to their academic freedom. Disruptions and the prevention of lectures are actual violations of the academic freedom of those giving and attending the lectures.

We all have a duty not to threaten academic freedom nor to capitulate to such threats.

The Academic Freedom Committee, UCT

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