Academic freedom and freedom of speech: the assault of vulnerability

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The UK government’s attempt to “prevent” terrorism and extremism in the university sector is rightly seen as an intolerant threat to academic freedom. However, this development has not come from a “right wing” authoritarian impulse, but rather, replicates many of the discussions already taking place in universities about the need to protect “vulnerable” students from offensive and dangerous ideas. Historically, the threat to academic freedom came from outside the university, from pressures exerted from governments, from religious institutions who oversaw a particular institution or from the demands of business. Alternatively it has been seen as something that is a particular problem in non-Western countries that do not have democracy. While some of these problems and pressures remain, there is a more dangerous threat to academic freedom that comes from within universities, a triumvirate of a relativistic academic culture, a new body of identity-based student activists and a therapeutically oriented university management, all three of which have helped to construct universities as safe spaces for the newly conceptualized “vulnerable student.” With reference to the idea of vulnerability, this chapter attempts to chart and explain these modern developments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching and learning practices for academic freedom
EditorsEnakshi Sengupta, Patrick Blessinger
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781800434806
ISBN (Print)9781800434813
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2020

Publication series

NameInnovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning
ISSN (Print)2055-3641


  • Academic freedom
  • Freedom of speech
  • Censorship
  • Vulnerability
  • University sector
  • Terrorism
  • Prevent


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