Academic freedom at stake

Posted By TEU on Nov 26, 2015 | 2 comments


Tertiary Update Vol 18 No 40

An attempt by police to prevent a crime researcher using public data raises important academic freedom questions.

University of Canterbury sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert revealed to the New Zealand Herald yesterday that he has been deemed by the police to be unfit to conduct research. The police have banned him from accessing police data.

“As an academic who studies crime, this is rather crippling. It’s also a staggering abuse of power,” he says.

Gilbert told the Herald  the degree of control the police sought over his research findings and publications was more than trifling.

“The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be ‘negative’ then the police will seek to ‘improve its outcomes’. Both the intent and the language would have impressed George Orwell.”

Academic Freedom Aotearoa spokesperson Hera Cook calls the attempt to prevent and suppress Gilbert’s research an attack on academic freedom.

She suggests that the problem is more widespread than simply the police dealing with one academic. She also believes that many academics are overly complacent in their expectation of freedom from political interference with research in New Zealand. She says that our role as critic and conscience has to be defended and we should be grateful to Gilbert for taking a stand.

“Government departments are making demands that academics sign contracts that unreasonably curtail academic research,” she wrote on Facebook.

TEU’s national president Sandra Grey agrees, saying government departments are wary of damaging headlines and this has led them to clamp down on public commentary from scientists.

“If we want strong public debate and good policy making, research results need to be public.  Where public interest is at stake, an academic needs to release work publicly – no matter who funds the research.”

A survey last year by AUT’s Work Research Institute revealed that nearly two-fifths of academics say that their level of academic freedom is worse than when they started work.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. New pay offer ends AUT dispute
  2. Northtec members vote on new pay deal
  3. Tertiary education cuts are the important stat
  4. Govt cannot dismiss scientists
  5. Rubbish-bin for Unitec redundancy offers
  6. TPPA goes to the vote

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