The University of Reading has caused shockwaves in the academic community by labelling an essay by acclaimed left-wing academic Norman Geras as sensitive material. This decision comes as a result of the government’s anti-terror initiative ‘Prevent’; a programme designed to divert individuals vulnerable to radicalisation away from potentially harmful material. The essay has now been subject to strict guidelines by Reading and can only be viewed by specific students with general access to the essay in question made deliberately inconvenient.
The essay, titled ‘Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution’, is regarded as crucial piece of reading for the Politics module at Reading. Many critics of Prevent have cited this instance as curtailing free speech and being something that could have potentially damaging long-term effects on the way academic work and higher-learning is handled.
The late Professor Geras served a respected tenure at Manchester University and was revered as a political writer through much of his life; the censorship of his work marks him one of the most high-profile authors to fall victim to the Prevent initiative. Possible grounds for the flagging of his work could be found in his philosophy on political violence; whilst never endorsing terrorism, Geras did support violence in what he believed to be cases of extreme social injustice.
Criticism of the university’s decision has been widespread however, with Waqas Tufail, a noted lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University, claiming that the actions of the University highlight a worrying shift in the relationship between fellow academics as well as their readership. Geras’ essay had ironically been listed as an essential text for students at Reading only a year previous for the ‘Justice and Injustice’ Politics module.
‘Prevent’ has seen a heavy increase in practice since 2011 but maintains that it’s objective is to stop radicalisation of young people by texts that are believed to be harmful; the decision at Reading to count the work of Geras amongst these has harmful materials has seen newfound scrutiny applied to the government’s anti-terror scheme.