Cardiff Academic Freedom Association forced to cover own costs by University.

Cardiff University has abused its own internal policies in order to deprive Cardiff Academic Freedom Association of support. 

Cardiff Academic Freedom Association (CAFA) is a new organisation founded by academics at Cardiff University “to promote academic freedom and freedom of speech at Cardiff University”. CAFA states that it is strictly non-partisan and will “only promote academic freedom and never take positions on other issues”. 

CAFA is a branch of Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF), one of the principal organisations defending academic freedom in the UK. AFAF has recently expanded, with new branches at the University of Exeter, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Universities, and University College London. Branches consist of academics from the university in question who have signed AFAF’s statement of academic freedom

CAFA’s inaugural launch is scheduled to take place on 23rd May. Cardiff University, as a matter of policy, ordinarily contributes to the costs of security and venue hire for events that are “internal” to the university. This includes, for instance, venue hire by the Cardiff branch of the University and College Union. However, when CAFA approached the university for funding to cover the costs of security and venue hire for the launch they were told bluntly that the event was not “internal” and funding was refused. The costs amounted to £1500, which CAFA would have struggled to meet – making it unlikely that the event could go ahead. 

CAFA is an organisation created by Cardiff University academics, consisting solely of Cardiff University academics, for the purposes of promoting academic freedom at Cardiff University. The claim that CAFA’s launch is not an internal event is absurd – and an inconsistent application of the university’s policies. 

It appears unlikely that the decision to class CAFA’s launch as external was a mere administrative error. CAF has heard that the organisation faced constant opposition and difficulties from university administration when it was first established. It seems that the labelling of CAFA’s launch as an external event was a deliberate strategy to make it difficult, or impossible, for the event to take place. Abuse of rules on security costs is an effective, covert way to prevent disfavoured organisations in universities from being able to hold events. See CAF’s interview with Jack Barwell, where he discusses a similar case at the University of Exeter. 

From 1st August 2024, under the Higher Education and Freedom of Speech Act, it will be illegal in England for universities to pass on security costs to organisations on the basis of the (legal) views of these organisations. Were Wales subject to the Act, it is highly likely that Cardiff’s actions would be illegal.  

Thankfully, CAFA’s launch will go ahead on the planned date, with support provided by the Free Speech Union’s Mactaggert Programme