Taking Mill personally

Via Maryam: a lecturer at a Swedish university is being investigated for lecturing on John Stuart Mill. It’s in Swedish but there’s a translate button at the top, so one can get the gist. Rrr provided us with a translation:

Groundless investigations of teachers jeopardize academic freedom and reduce the working and learning environment within the university.

Adamson (the male lecturer, who was by the way previously fired from Malmö university for criticising the Swedish variety policy) claims the quotes about religion are untrue. “All I did was to point out that while religions may not necessarily be true, they can give a sense of cohesion that secular society can not offer.”

The school planned an extensive investigation by an external jurist and some persons randomly chosen by the teacher, the complainant and the employer – not as a legal process but in order to gain a better view of what happened, explains the HR officer. The two lecturers oppose this, on the grounds that as a state institution the school cannot perform an investigation that is not a part of a legal procedure. (The other teacher holds a PhD in public administration.) They also refuse to take part in the selection of witnesses and stress that any participation of students may cause strife in the class and potentially be damaging.

The ARW’s take, based on the complaint and e-mails it has read, is that there are no grounds to believe that there can have occurred any direct discrimation, nor oppressive special treatment. The complainant refers to no concrete decision against her, such as exam results, and that the mere feeling one is discriminated against is insufficient for a suspicion of actual discrimination. For there to have been oppressive special treatment, the official guidelines from the directorate of worker protection requires a series of serious oppression over a significant period of time. Neither requisite is satisfied in this case.

In a situation like this it would be unnecessary and even harmful to commence an extensive inquiry. Instead the case should be rapidly handled by internal legal counsel, who can on the above grounds immediately decide that the accusations lack merit. A more ambitious inquiry would send a signal that even trivial occurances will be taken most seriously, which would blow them out of all proportion. The result: impeded freedom of speech and a worse working environment, where one has to watch one’s tounge in order not to offend someone.

The studying environment itself deteriorates if students are unnecessarily called to witness. Finally, an unfounded and extralegal inquiry, which also takes a long time, can be seen as the teacher proper being faced with oppressive special treatment, which in turn leads to further inquiry, and so on. The union representative supports the teachers’ demand that the inquiry be cancelled.

This is a case where the Principal and other officers must show a backbone and a principled behaviour to without hesitation stand on the side of the teacher and of academic freedom. A first step is to immediately abort the inquiry. The alternative would be to succumb to populism and political correctness in a way not flattering for a serious place of learning. The Principal or other officer should further make it clear, preferably in public, that it is sad if a student feels religiously discriminated but that the university is not a “protected workshop” where nobody is ever sad or upset, but that it is a preparation for life – where things are obviously different.

That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing any university should “investigate.” Religion is in fact a social phenomenon, and if you can’t learn about that in a university, then where can you learn it?

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