I have turned this subject over and over in my mind - wondering at my own deep disquiet -
- and remembering the dreaded days of 'house arrest' in old-style apartheid South Africa - during my own student days - which cannot be many years different from those experienced by both Peter Hain and the chief scientist David King. I wonder if they too remember exactly what it was like then.
The other item I remembered this week was something that impressed me greatly in the first few weeks of my academic career - we had an annual 'Academic Freedom Day' - with speakers and ceremonies - I assumed in my naivety that this was held everywhere in the world that academic freedom was prized - checking up with my UK colleagues I gather they had never heard of it - nor were perhaps even aware of what an important thing Academic Freedom is!
Our academic freedom was highly compromised - at least one of my lecturers was placed under house arrest - which meant that, apart from giving lectures, he was not allowed to be at any gathering, or have any visitors in his home. This went on for months - and, yes. I do remember the rather strange student who took part in all our lectures that year - an extremely odd young man whose grasp of the subject matter was extremely tenuous - and who scribbled busily in his notes whenever the word 'Integration' came up in the lecture - which was extremely often as we were studying mathematics and this is a basic topic. Everyone knew that this 'student' must have been some kind of spy (there were other significant inconsistencies) - but the subject was seldom discussed - and never in public.
It was strange that a respected teacher and academic could be put in this position because he disagreed with official government policy - and had the guts and integrity to say so!
It scares me rigid that, having returned to my mother country and chosen to make my life here over 30 years ago for many reasons - tolerance, equality and justice being among the major ones - the UK is now trying to adopt some of the worst ideas from illiberal, desperate (and now gone) regimes and for much the same reasons! We well remember the 'threats' of 'terrorism' - and 'things it is better that you do not know!' - telephone tapping was not uncommon in those days - please tell me it cannot happen here!
Perhaps our universities will need to start with Academic Freedom Day - before it disappears altogether - along with so many other Freedoms.