In his annual lecture today, Bill Rammell, vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, will call on universities to do more to promote freedom of speech and debate.
The vice chancellor’s lecture ‘Universities in the age of populism and anti-intellectualism’ explores the rise of populism and its impact on universities.
It also outlines what he believes universities need to do in order to be popular in the age of populism.
Excerpts sent to the Bedford Independent ahead of today’s lecture detail how the vice chancellor will say: “universities must promote freedom of speech and debate, challenge untruths and bring people together at a time of unprecedented division.
“From Brexit to (Donald) Trump, populism is on the rise. We live in a world where fact and opinion are being deliberately blurred for personal and political purposes.
“Dispelling this abuse of power is fundamental to social cohesion, genuine advancement and democracy.”
Speaking at the university’s Luton campus, the vice chancellor will talk about the impact of “post-truth” a phrase awarded ‘word of the year’ in 2016 by the Oxford University Press.
“As institutions charged with the dissemination and creation of knowledge, we have a fundamental role to play in challenging misinformation – whatever its source,” he will say.
“We must promote an evidence based approach. And we must create space for our views to be contested, challenged and debated.
“As creators and disseminators of knowledge, we need to contest the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘alternative fact’.
“We must always aspire to truth and recognise that finding truth isn’t always easy.
“We need to defend freedom of speech, including speech that we find objectionable. However, we should never shy away from challenging views with which we disagree.
“We must teach our students how to disagree, but in an agreeable fashion, based on reason and evidence.”
The vice chancellor will call on universities to better highlight the important role they play in shaping communities, teaching, and research.
“I think we need to be more proactive in promoting what we do, not just for our students, but for our wider society.
“We change lives. The lives of our students and graduates. The lives of people within our community. The lives changed and enhanced through our research.
“Our graduates are our future nurses, social workers and teachers. They will be the driving force in our local knowledge economies. Our engineers and our leaders.
“Universities are engines of economic growth and drivers of social mobility. We have a fundamental role to play…
“Particularly when it comes to creating more job opportunities and helping communities to come together.”