Counter terrorism and academic freedom

27th January 2015

News, Student news, Alumni news

Universities could become an apparatus of surveillance according to provisions in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill to be debated in the House of Lords today (Tuesday 26 January).

Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald QC, who has put forward an amendment to the Bill (to be debated in the Lords on Wednesday) to remove universities from the legislation, writes in The Times that the provisions of the Bill “place for the first time a duty upon universities to play a role in the detection and reporting of extremist activity on campus.”

According to Lord Macdonald this will “envisage a relationship, up till now undeveloped, between institutions of higher learning and the security and law enforcement agencies of the State. It seems obvious that we should tread this unforgiving ground with very great care.”

Guidance accompanying the Bill requires a university to do much more than to report any suspected terrorists. Lord Macdonald writes: “It also requires our academics to ban and report to the police what the guidance describes as ‘non-violent extremism’. In future, apparently, it will be forbidden for anyone at a university to argue that democracy is wrong in principle (goodbye Plato), or to give a talk that fails ‘to respect individual liberty’ or to offer ‘mutual respect and tolerance (to) different faiths and beliefs’ (adieu to whole swathes of our Western intellectual history).”

Lord Macdonald commented that the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have written a joint letter to the Home Secretary about provisions in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.

News update, 3 February 2015
The Government has tabled an amendment adopting the amendment put forward by Ken Macdonald QC, which requires universities, in monitoring extremism on campus, to pay particular regard to maintaining freedom of expression.

  • Ken Macdonald QC, Warden of Wadham College

    Ken Macdonald QC, Warden of Wadham College Oxford is a Liberal Democrat peer. He was Director of Public Prosecutions, 2003-2008.