Agreement on academic freedom


1. The University of Exeter and the University of Exeter branch of the University and College Union have agreed the following definition of academic freedom which has been informed by Sections VI and VII of the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on 11 November 1997.

2. This definition will be applied by the University when making decisions under the Disciplinary, Removal and Grievance Procedures agreed under the Statutes of the University and detailed in Ordinances.

3. Scope: this agreement applies to staff in the academic job families and to support staff who, as part of their designated University duties, are engaged in research as an independent researcher or in teaching, hereinafter referred to as ‘staff undertaking academic activities’.

4. The University will maintain the academic freedom of staff undertaking academic activities. That is to say, freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies.

Rights of staff undertaking academic activities

5. The University will maintain the right of staff undertaking academic activities, as appropriate to their terms and conditions of employment:

  • to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind;
  • to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and    methods of teaching. They should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use curricula and methods contrary to national and international human rights standards. They should play a significant role in determining the curriculum;
  • to carry out research work without any interference, or any suppression, in accordance with their professional responsibility and subject to nationally and internationally recognized professional principles of intellectual rigour, scientific inquiry and research ethics. They should also have the right to publish and communicate the conclusions of the research of which they are authors or co-authors.

Responsibilities of staff undertaking academic activities

6. Staff undertaking academic activities should recognize that the exercise of rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities, including the obligation to respect the academic freedom of other members of the academic community and to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views.

7. Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research on an honest search for truth. Teaching, research and scholarship should be conducted in full accordance with ethical and professional standards.

8. In particular, the individual responsibilities of staff undertaking academic activities, as appropriate to their terms and conditions of employment, inherent in their academic freedom are:

  • to seek to achieve the highest possible standards in their professional work;
  • to teach students effectively within the means provided by the institution;
  • to ensure, where necessary, that the minimum content defined in the syllabus for each subject is covered;
  • to be fair and equitable to male and female students and treat those of all races and religions, as well as those with disabilities, equally;
  • to encourage the free exchange of ideas between themselves and their students, and to be available to them for guidance in their studies;
  • to conduct scholarly research and to disseminate the results of such research;
  • where original research is not required, to maintain and develop their knowledge of their subject through study and research, and through the development of teaching methodology to improve their pedagogical skills;
  • to base their research and scholarship on an honest search for knowledge with due respect for evidence, impartial reasoning and honesty in reporting;
  • to observe the ethics of research involving humans, animals, the heritage or the environment;
  • to respect and to acknowledge the scholarly work of academic colleagues and students and, in particular, to ensure that authorship of published works includes all who have materially contributed to, and share responsibility for, the contents of a publication;
  • to refrain from using new information, concepts or data that were originally obtained as a result of access to confidential manuscripts or applications for funds for research or training that may have been seen as the result of processes such as peer review, unless the author has given permission;
  • to ensure that research is conducted according to the laws and regulations of the state in which the research is carried out, that it does not violate international codes of human rights, and that the results of the research and the data on which it is based are effectively made available to scholars and researchers in the host institution, except where this might place respondents in peril or where anonymity has been guaranteed;
  • to avoid conflicts of interest and to resolve them through appropriate disclosure and full consultation with the higher education institution employing them, so that they have the approval of the aforesaid institution;
  • to handle honestly all funds entrusted to their care for higher education institutions for research or for other professional or scientific bodies;
  • to be fair and impartial when presenting a professional appraisal of academic colleagues and students;
  • to be conscious of a responsibility, when speaking or writing outside scholarly channels on matters which are not related to their professional expertise, to avoid misleading the public on the nature of their professional expertise;
  • to undertake such appropriate duties as are required for the collegial governance of institutions of higher education and of professional bodies.

Signed by Professor Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Mr Nick Birbeck, UCU Brance Secretary on 31 July 2009.