I’ve finally got around to resuming the debate with Andrew Norton over my claim that neoliberals (or, if you prefer, contemporary classical liberals) are not particularly supportive of freedom of speech. Norton argues that the absence of discussion of freedom of speech reflects the fact that, with minor exceptions, freedom of speech is not threatened.
But at least one form of freedom of speech, academic freedom, is coming under sustained attack. Academics are regularly being subject to attacks from university managers either for criticising the commercial operations of the university or for political speech. The most notable recent example was the Steele case, but it is by no means unique.
The Centre for Independent Studies has been active participant in this debate, and has presented the viewpoints of university managers concerned to manage or suppress academic freedom. The most striking instance is a piece by Steven & Gregory Schwartz (Steven Schwartz was formerly vice-chancellor of Murdoch university. The breakout quotes chosen by the CIS in republishing the piece give the basic line
the laissez-faire approach to academic freedom is neither logical nor practical
like freedom of speech, academic freedom has its limits
Lauchlan Chipman is more reasonable, but still seeks to invent precedents for the restrictions on academic speech managers are now trying to impose.
Australian universities have always insisted that academics have no right to comment publicly, except as ordinary citizens, on any matters outside their area of academic expertise. Whether written or unwritten, such policies have always denied academics the right to use their university rank, occupational position, or address in external communications on other than their area of academic expertise
I can say from personal experience that this is untrue. Precisely this issue was vigorously debated when I was at James Cook University, where the management was trying to suppress an environmental law lecturer who was criticising an influential local property magnate. You can read a bit about the case here (search for David Haigh). At the time, the Academic Board had sufficient power to resist this move, but as Chipman indicates, it’s a standard item in the managerialist log of claims. And of course it’s managers who decide what is relevant.
The concept of academic freedom raises a lot of complex issues, including the general ‘whistleblower’ problem, the relative weight placed on freedom of contract and freedom of speech and the nature of universities. But it’s easy to see who is in favour of free speech and who is against it.