UPDATE: Dr. Ahmed was appalled to realize that he’d unconsciously used the words of the Kalven Report, and tried to get the Times to note that in its printed piece. But the Times says it usually doesn’t add stuff like that, so Ahmed has asked me to add the following note to this site; I’m glad to comply.
I also wish to take this opportunity to mention that the third sentence, ‘It is not a seminary’, of course expresses a common idea that many others have expressed in these or similar terms, notably John Henry Newman.
Reader Jez sent me some news from England, which seems pretty good, but I found a bug in the ointment. First, Jez’s news, highlighted in a piece he wrote for The Times of London (first link):
Just in case you’re interested, Arif Ahmed was recently appointed the director for freedom of speech and academic freedom for the Office for Students in England. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge and seems to be a good choice.
Indeed, Ahmed is not only an MBE, but, more important, is described this way in Wikipedia:
At Cambridge he has been an advocate for tolerance of diverse political views, in reaction to the university administration’s cancellation of an invitation to the politically conservative academic Jordan Peterson.
But reading the archived Times article in the first link, something struck me as sounding familiar. Ahmed’s piece starts this way:
A university is not a club. It is not a political lobby. It is not a seminary. It is not a “brand”. It exists to seek and speak truth, whatever it costs and whoever it upsets. Therefore, without freedom to explore controversial or “offensive” ideas, a university is nothing.
Well, that made me go back to the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report of 1967—the University’s declaration that it will officially adhere to political, moral, and ideological neutrality save in circumstances directly affecting the University’s real mission: to disseminate and produce knowledge.
And in that Kalven report you’ll find these stirring words:
A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.
Now these words aren’t identical to Ahmed’s, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t lift the phrases “it is not a club” and “it is not a lobby”—succinct and eloquent phrases—from our Kalven report. And if that’s the case, then he should have given credit to Kalven and his colleagues.
Lifting phrases like this, which to me is plagiarism, is not a good way to begin one’s tenure as a director of freedom of speech and academic freedom. For what you are not free to do is pass off other people’s prose as yours.
Granted, these are small phrases, and the copying may have been unconscious, but had I written this, I would have referenced the quote or used my own words.
Otherwise, it’s a very good editorial, and a good harbinger of more free speech and academic freedom in British universities.