On the autonomy of universities

Lorna R. Marsden, president & vice-chancellor of York University, issued the following statement yesterday:

From time to time universities across the world come under pressure to boycott the universities and academics of a particular nation, for one reason or another. Currently, for example, some academics from the United Kingdom are proposing a boycott of Israeli universities. Often, the rationale proposed for such action is to oppose the politics or practices of another nation state by isolating its academics.

This is a fundamental misconception on two levels. First, that universities are or should be an arm of their national government is a direct threat to academic freedom and should be opposed on principle. Second, the idea that individual universities should operate some kind of academic foreign policy is anathema to everything that, as academics, we stand for. Universities are not governments operating global policies but academic communities of scholars free to communicate with other academics across the globe in the pursuit of their academic goals.

Finally, the idea that one group of academics should dictate to another group which academics they are permitted to communicate with is something that needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history forthwith.

At York, we stand firm for the autonomy of universities from government and the freedom of our scholars, scientists and artists to pursue their own academic goals unfettered by the dogmatism of others.