The following Emergency Motion was passed by the Warwick UCU Branch Committee on 28th October 2021.
Emergency motion: Academic Freedom and the Sacking of Professor David Miller
Warwick University UCU branch committee expresses its deep concern about the University of Bristol’s dismissal of Professor David Miller without clarity about the reasons for their decision.
We oppose antisemitism and racism of all kinds and support the legal principle that universities should prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation of individuals on the basis of their race, ethnicity or religion, or other protected characteristics, as they are obliged to under the 2010 Equality Act.
We also note that universities have legal obligations to secure academic freedom within the law according to Section 2(8)(c) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which states that academic staff at English higher education providers have ‘the freedom within the law … (i) to question and test received wisdom, and (ii) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the providers.’ This is, for good reason, a very high threshold of legal protection (see our Academic Freedom Explainer).
In this context, we note that the statement issued by the University of Bristol on 1 October reported that an independent QC found that Professor Miller’s comments were lawful and no statement has otherwise been made about the specific grounds for his dismissal.
In light of that fact, and in the absence of any indication by the University of Bristol of the ways in which Professor Miller’s behaviour has been deemed sufficiently sub-standard to merit dismissal, and even as some of our members may strongly disagree with Professor Miller’s utterances, we are concerned that Professor Miller’s dismissal appears to be a violation of the right to freedom of expression and the right to academic freedom.
Professor Miller’s case is occurring in a context in which there are ongoing controversies in the higher education sector about the relationship between academic freedom and dignity. The University of Bristol’s actions are a cause for concern among our members because they may establish a precedent for how other universities deal with complaints against academics, other university staff and students relating to their lawful speech, academic research and/or teaching. It is urgent that Bristol clarifies the specific grounds for this dismissal. If Professor Miller has been fired for his research, teaching or comments in contravention of his right to academic freedom or freedom of speech, then the university should reinstate him immediately.
This branch resolves to urgently:
- write to the University of Bristol, calling for clarification of why Professor Miller’s actions merited dismissal and in the case that Professor Miller’s dismissal contravenes the right to academic freedom or freedom of expression, to call for his immediate reinstatement;
- express publicly its concern about the circumstances and implications of this case; and
- call on the General Secretary and President of UCU to write on behalf of UCU to the Vice-Chancellor at Bristol calling for clarification of why Professor Miller’s actions merited dismissal and in the case that Professor Miller’s dismissal contravenes the right to academic freedom or freedom of expression, to call for the immediate reinstatement of Professor Miller.