This is a letter to The Times that was not published. We publish a version here with signatures in support. We are happy to add further names, please use the AFAF ‘Contact’ form.
Your leading article ‘Assad’s Useful Idiots’ (Apr 14) is an attack on academic freedom. You say that some of the few academics who speak up and raise criticisms of Western intervention in Syria are engaging in ‘propaganda’; that they are ‘making dogmatic assertions of the unpalatable and indefensible’ which amount to ‘flattery’ of Assad. There is no evidence for any of this and your leader is almost hysterical in its denunciation of certain critical academics. You proceed through smear tactics and guilt by association to try and get them no-platformed or sacked.
Readers will not have missed the irony of your unsubstantiated allegations appearing on the day that they heard that the governments of the US, the UK and France bombed Syria on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.
The work of academics is criticism and the job of academics who disagree with what others say is to criticise their opinions and arguments. No issues are exempt. That is what ‘untrammelled academic inquiry’ means.
Given the many articles you have published about attacks on free speech in universities this leader is hypocritical. We hope that you have merely fallen into what Mill, in On Liberty, calls a ‘temporary panic’ in times of fear that leads to the ‘ill-judged interference with the liberty of public discussion’ and will return to a more balanced defence of free speech and academic freedom in the future.
Professor Dennis Hayes, University of Derby and Director, Academics For Academic Freedom
Professor Ellie Lee, University of Kent
Professor Phil Hammond, London South Bank University
Dr Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Helene Guldberg, The Open University
Dr Kevin Yuill, Programme Leader for History, University of Sunderland
Professor Liz Atkins, Northumbria University
Dr Casper Hewett, Newcastle University, Director, The Great Debate
Dr Philip Cunliffe, University of Kent
Mo Lovatt, Independent Academic
Dr Ruth Mieschbuehler, University of Derby
Dr Shirley Lawes, UCL Institute of Education
Dan Weston, University of Leicester
Dr Carlton Brick, University of the West of Scotland
Brian Boag, Associate Dean, University of Salford
Dr Stuart Waiton, Abertay University
Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, writer and academic, alumna, University of Cambridge
Dr James Panton, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy, The Open University
Peter Revill, Nottingham Trent University
Robin Öberg, PhD student in anthropology, University of Exeter