Academic Freedom and Good Relations

The University has a special role in promoting and encouraging vigorous debate, free speech and freedom of enquiry within the law.  Protection of academic freedom recognises that  academic staff have the right to explore unpopular or controversial subjects and opinions in their teaching even though students may find them challenging or unpalatable. 

Academic staff must, however, ensure that their teaching delivery does not discriminate against or cause harassment of any student on the grounds of their ‘protected characteristic’.


In a lecture on political propaganda a lecturer uses images produced by the Third Reich to illustrate the discussion.

Subsequently in tutorial groups students are asked to list all the stereotypes of Jewish people that they can think of and discuss how visible they are in the media.

Afterwards a Jewish student complains about both the use of the images and the tutorial discussion which she says made her, as the only Jewish person in the group, feel isolated and vulnerable. The use of Nazi propaganda to illustrate the lecture, although uncomfortable for some students, is appropriate.

The lecturer might choose in future to introduce the subject by recognising that the content might be problematic and by discussing her reasons for using it. 

By focusing the tutorial discussion only on stereotypes of Jewish people the lecturer has created a situation where one student has a different (and negative) experience from the others based on her ethnicity and religion. 

Widening the discussion to look at stereotypes of   other groups, perhaps including some that everyone can connect with (students for example) would make it less likely that any one student would feel harassed.


Inclusive tips:

Encourage working across difference as students can be reluctant to work with people who are different from themselves, particularly across perceived  language or cultural barriers.  Use group work to encourage students out of their comfort zones. 

Consider allocating groups rather than allowing self-selection, including the collection of diverse viewpoints in group activity, asking students to  reflect on how they work with difference in their personal learning journals, or making reflections on the impact diversity has on the group process part of the assessment requirements. 

Identify opportunities within your course to reflect diversity – this could be in the external speakers you invite, the field trips you organise, the study materials you use or the assignments you set.

Also refer to: Human Rights & Freedom of Expression Legal Framework


Updated: 15 Oct 2019