Academic freedom is crucial to a strong democracy says Jack Heinemann, co-chair of a group of academics out to defend academic freedom.
The group, Academic Freedom Aotearoa, was launched last week on World Academic Freedom Day. It is a watchdog and advocacy group made up of academics from all around New Zealand committed to protecting and enhancing academic freedom and tertiary education institutions’ autonomous role as the critic and conscience of society.
“Academic freedom is the responsibility placed on scholars to present uncomfortable truths that might otherwise cost them their jobs, liberty and life at some times and in some places. Parliament uniquely gives this responsibility and right to staff and students at New Zealand universities. It is what makes New Zealand a dynamic place to live, learn, and innovate,” said Jack Heinemann.
The group’s other co-chair, Sandra Grey, says one of the big threats to academic freedom in New Zealand at the moment is the wayperformance research funding is channelled towards research that is commercially applicable rather than research which challenges the government or big business.
“The space for academics who are researching and speaking out on things that the government does not want to hear is shrinking. They are losing research money and they are losing their positions as institutions shuffle them aside in search of performance funding,” said Sandra Grey.
You can find the group’s website at academicfreedom.kiwi.nz