Academics refuse to give Government information on what they are teaching students about Brexit.
Academics sent out a petition to the Minister of State for Universities after Tory MP and government whip Chris Heaton-Harris asked all UK universities for a list of teachers’ names who teach about Brexit, as well as for details about what is being taught.
After receiving the enquiry in a letter addressed by the House of Commons, Prof. Brooks, the Dean of Durham Law School, decided to start a petition and managed to gather nearly 2,4000 signatures within a week.
He was concerned that “while all North East universities quickly refused to provide the information” others would feel obliged to respond to the MP’s request, declared on the Chronicle Live.
Let me make something clear. I will NOT be answering his request. We're a university. Not thought police. https://t.co/JtpphKAIm8
— Thom Brooks (@thom_brooks) October 24, 2017
In fact, Prof. Brooks urged the Minister to clarify the Government’s position on the issue, because “while neither the Prime Minister nor her minister appears to support Heaton-Harris’s request, both have not made clear to universities they can disregard the letter if they wish.” Therefore, “we’re looking for the government to draw a line under it,” he told the publication.
The petition was sent out on Thursday morning urging Mr Johnson to inform every university’s vice-chancellor that they are not bound to release the information; and that the Tory MP’s request can be ignored if the university wishes to do so.
— Thom Brooks (@thom_brooks) November 4, 2017
The data appeared to be requested for research purposes, but academics saw it as an attempt to limit freedom of speech.
Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University and former Conservative chairman, said that the letter should be thrown in the bin. He described the events as an act of “offensive and idiotic Leninism”, according to a BBC report.
Media professionals also criticised the MP request as an alarming threat to democracy.
Here a columnist for International Business Times:
— Yasmin alibhai-brown (@y_alibhai) October 27, 2017
“He is a government whip – he’s not just an MP – and his job is to keep people in line for the government”, Mr Brooks declared to Chronicle Live.
However, a spokesperson for Downing Street replied:“ The letter was written by Mr Heaton-Harris in his capacity as an MP, not as a government whip. The Prime Minister has always been very clear about the freedom of universities and the role they play in creating and stimulating debate,” he concluded.
Mr Johnson commented: “It was more of an academic enquiry rather than an attempt to constrain the freedom that academics rightly have”, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But he added: “I think a letter that could have been misinterpreted should probably not have been sent in this way.”
The request for disclosure of information is additionally controversial and it is likely to raise further criticisms as the Government has failed to publish data estimating UK’s economic future after the withdrawal from the European Union.
In fact, the Tory government found itself under pressures from anti-Brexit MPs to release the study, which reveals the potential impact of Brexit on 58 UK economic sectors, for weeks.
On 2nd November, the Labour MPs appealed to the Commons to rule on the matter. A vote, known as the “humble address”, resulted with the majority voting for the disclosure of the data.
David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has been given 12 weeks to release the study on economic damage from the exit. “Of course we will be as open as we can be with the select committee, I fully intend to,” Mr Davies said in The Independent.
How much of such data will be released will be decided by the Brexit Select Committee, but the Labour party appears to be calling for the full disclosure.
— Stephen Doughty (@SDoughtyMP) November 3, 2017
Words: Fabiola Zaccardelli / Subbing: Lotta Behrens
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