An Open Letter to Chris Heaton-Harris MP
This letter was sent by email to Chris Heaton-Harris MP on Wednesday 25th October after the scandal which occurred the previous day. It was revealed that Mr Heaton-Harris sent letters to all academic institutions asking information on staff who teach on Brexit and requiring online resources on this subject and the syllabuses of said topic. As students studying a Masters in European Affairs, this is our response:
To Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Dear Mr Heaton-Harris,
As students studying at the European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, we write to raise concerns following the release of a letter addressed to UK university vice-chancellors in which you request that universities provide, for your consideration, information regarding academic staff, teaching programmes, and lecture material with “particular reference to Brexit.”
This move sets a worrying precedent and, perhaps, an illegal one. Namely, it represents a breach on our right to Academic Freedom, as protected by the UK, EU and UNESCO. As students, it is our right and freedom to discuss openly about the challenges associated with Brexit. We also defend the rights of our teachers and professors, to conduct research that is independent, the results of which we are free to consider and debate according to their merits. There is no place for political interference within the scope of academic research, teaching, information and thought. It is not the first time your government has tried to impose limit upon, or falsify the findings of, academic research on Brexit. You have previously asked the LSE to refrain from commenting on the challenges on Brexit, which is utterly unacceptable and against political conduct.
While the United Kingdom remains a Member State of the EU, you are obliged as a working Member of Parliament to respect and follow the rules of membership. It is stated in Article 13 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights that “the arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.” By requesting that academics provide information relating to their teaching of, and research on Brexit, you place undue political pressure upon institutions, academics and students whose right it is to pursue free and fair discussions. In so doing, you are in breach of Article 13.
You also contravene fundamental rights as elaborated by UNESCO. The UNESCO declaration of institutional autonomy states that “Higher- education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies” (§ 27) (UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (1997). While not legally binding, UNESCO helps set international standards in many arenas including culture and more particularly education. As citizens of the EU, our freedom of education is undermined because of your legal breach in the autonomy of our academic institutions.
The United Kingdom is known worldwide for the quality of its higher education institutions as well as the academics which inhabit these. It is not through policing debate over Brexit in universities, that we will be less-informed about the challenges your government is facing. Taking steps to censor and sterilise debates over Brexit at the United Kingdom smacks of an arrogance and parochialism which will have worrying implications for the country going forward. This move is a source of anxiety for many of us here at LSE — a university which has thrived on being able to attract the best international — primarily EU — students. We will not accept strong-arm tactics employed against our academics. Neither will we be constrained in what we choose to debate and study at university. Lastly — a word of caution. The United Kingdom, for much of the last century, has represented a pillar of liberalism and openness unmatched anywhere in the West, including the United States. Many of us chose the United Kingdom as a place to study, precisely for the reputation it held. Your actions, and those of your more senior Conservative colleagues, are placing this legacy at considerable risk.
We sincerely hope that you will reconsider your plan to monitor university teaching in European Affairs, permitting students and academics to express and exercise their right to freedom of education.
Eugenie Valentin. MSc EU Politics
Sara Roebuck, MSc Political Economy of Europe
Alexis Chalopin, MSc Political Economy of Europe
Tarik El Rhani, MSc EU Politics
Armelle Ripart, MSc Political Economy of Europe
Pierre-Philippe Richard, MSc Global Europe: Culture and Conflict
Pierre-Antoine Laprat, MSc Political Economy of Europe
Gaelle Chaillet, Political Economy of Europe