Jo Williams

5 January 2016


Once, scholars demanded academic freedom to critique existing knowledge and to pursue new truths. Today, while fondness for the rhetoric of academic freedom remains, the concept itself is increasingly criticised as outdated and elitist. Students and lecturers alike are often at the forefront of calls for censorship and restrictions on debate. In this talk I will trace the demise of academic freedom within the context of changing ideas about the purpose of the university and the nature of scholarship. Various intellectual and political trends have come together to erode a link between knowledge and truth. As a result, universities are less a ‘marketplace of ideas’ and more a site for the promotion of values. This creates a climate of conformity and encourages a culture of self-censorship.



Dr Joanna Williams is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Kent. Her research focuses upon the construction of students as consumers, higher education as a public good and academic freedom. Joanna’s work has been published in a number of academic journals. She has written two books: ‘Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought’ was published in 2012 and ‘Academic Freedom and the Fear of Knowledge in an Era of Conformity’ was published in 2015. Joanna regularly contributes to national higher education debates and is the education editor of Spiked Online.



The David Watson Memorial Lecture Series, 2015 – 2016, What Should Universities Be?

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