Anton Muscatelli: No sign of debate intimidation

I WAS struck by the recent assertion that academics in Scottish universities are feeling intimidated and unwilling to speak up in the independence debate.

Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow
Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow. Picture: Jane Barlow

I think it is important to counter that impression.

Universities are a key component of the civic fabric of Scotland. Throughout our history – and my university is 563 years old – we have played an active role in societal debates. We live and breathe social and political change, and we shape it as well as adapt to it.

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During the independence debate, the University of Glasgow, like the other universities in Scotland, has adopted a strictly neutral stance. There are good reasons for that. First and foremost, this important decision belongs to the people of Scotland. Second, as a charitable body we should remain neutral.

However, neutrality does not imply indifference or an unwillingness to engage: quite the contrary. We want to be fully active and encourage vigorous and open debate. We have launched Policy Scotland as an innovative hub for thinking in public policy, not just focusing on the referendum but offering an international perspective on many policy areas. Policy Scotland has hosted lectures and debates on matters in the constitutional debate ranging from welfare policy, to the currency, to future visions of Scotland.

These events have involved academics, politicians and the public in active discussion, without any constraints, actual or perceived, making the University of Glasgow one of the crucibles of debate. I have also said to my academic colleagues they should feel free to debate constitutional matters openly, to both question and be questioned. Many have actively done so on both sides of the debate. As head of the institution, I have been careful about not giving my views on the actual referendum question, to avoid compromising the neutrality of the institution itself.

No-one, on either side of the debate, has tried to intimidate, bully or silence me, my university or the dozens of academics playing an active role in the campaign.

Universities will never hesitate to speak out when they feel that their interests are compromised, and we value our autonomy. Personally, I feel fully engaged in the debate, and not intimidated.

• Anton Muscatelli is principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow University.