Questions on academic freedom need addressing

The group of academics noted MOE's assurances that the proposed law against online falsehoods will not affect their work but cannot accept it as a categorical guarantee until it is reflected in the language of the Bill.
The group of academics noted MOE's assurances that the proposed law against online falsehoods will not affect their work but cannot accept it as a categorical guarantee until it is reflected in the language of the Bill.PHOTO: AFP

Academic freedom is a vital aspect and core value of institutions of higher education.

Without such a freedom, the institutions cannot pursue the discovery, promotion and transmission of truth and lay the foundation to build a better world (Some scholars want academic protection reflected in fake news Bill, April 14).

The challenges facing academic freedom include the difficulty in defining academic freedom.

In addition, there is hardly any concerted drive to craft an ethos or code of conduct on academic freedom or to prevent its abuse.

As a result, there are questions that need to be answered, including the following:

Should academics be given uninhibited freedom?

Can academic freedom be used as an excuse to avoid being accountable for negative consequences that result from the work of academics?

Where is the line between exercising academic freedom to pursue truth and wisdom, and hiding behind academic freedom to fulfil partisan political and socio-economic agendas?

Does having academic freedom mean one has carte blanche to communicate irresponsibly and without credible evidence?

There are many fault lines that are defined by different cultures, creeds and communities, and these cracks can be easily targeted to trigger social upheavals and other forms of unrest.

For example, in many countries, natives still operate from a tribal lens and protecting their turf is a cultural imperative.

How should academics be taken to task if they cross the line to cause undue disharmony, hatred and even conflict?

The battle to establish a healthy climate for academic freedom is a worthy one, and academics should continue to help governments and countries to find an acceptable and equitable solution.

Patrick Liew Siow Gian (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Questions on academic freedom need addressing'. Print Edition | Subscribe