Sunday, 7 September 2008

Masters and Scholars - Eric Ashby on funding and freedom

It has been at least a couple of weeks since I have quoted Eric Ashby. I am currently writing a paper on him for the ANZHES conference in December.

"The English language is, as you know, a treasury of equivocations. We call our private schools public, and we contrast our public sector of higher education (which really is public) with what we call our autonomous system of universities. But it is a fragile autonomy, because something like 85 per cent of he cost of running our autonomous universities comes from public funds. Alarmists in the British academic world fear government control and cry: 'Hands off the universities!' I do not share this alarm, for universities have always depended upon patrons to finance them, and over a stretch of seven centuries they have learnt how to dissuade their patrons - princes, bishops, tycoons, alumni - from meddling in their affairs."

"The German university of the nineteenth century gave two precious legacies to the academic world: Lehrfreiheit, which is the liberty of the professor to teach according to his convictions and his conscience, and Lernfreiheit, which is then liberty of the student to learn, according to his preferences, from the professors in whose classes he chooses to enrol. It was the combination of these two liberties which constituted academic freedom. But when these ideas crossed the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean they were changed. On the one hand Lehrfreiheit has been enlarged into a concept of academic freedom which gives a professor immunities not enjoyed by other professionals and not directly relevant to his academic work. A civil servant cannot directly preach anarchy. A doctor cannot advertise hi virtues on television. University professors can do both - and some of them do - and would regard it as a monstrous infringement of academic freedom if anyone questioned their right to do so."

Masters and Scholars: Reflections on the Rights and Responsibilities of Students, 1970, pp.10-11

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