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Britain's National Association of University Teachers, New Restrictions on Freemasonry

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The following motion was proposed [then carried] by Imperial College AUT at the AUT Summer Council 1998 in the section on Employment:

44 Imperial Imperial Council believes that the secrecy surrounding freemasonry is incompatible with the principles of open and transparent procedures in recruitment, promotion, disciplinary, financial and peer reviewed activities, and has an adverse effect on equal opportunities. The fourth report of the Committee of Standards in Public Life called for rules governing conflicts of interest to be introduced across all sectors. Council believes that this should apply to all higher education governing and quasi-judicial bodies, and instructs the executive committee to campaign for compulsory disclosure of freemason membership. Carried

The speech proposing the motion was as follows:

Laura Barker, Imperial and Executive, proposing the motion from, but not necessarily about, Imperial. But it certainly raised a very lively debate there.

I’ll try to anticipate some of the points that opponents might make:

  • that requiring people to declare their freemasonry membership is, in itself, a form of discrimination. But there is surely a difference between discriminating on the basis of those factors that are beyond a person’s control, like race, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability or nationality, and making a judgement about the associations that they freely choose to join.
  • that people belong to all sorts of organisations, clubs and societies - are we expecting them to declare them all? No, of course not. Most won’t present a potential conflict of interest and are irrelevant. Those that possibly do are not secret. The professional affiliations of academic and related staff are obvious from the strings of letters that appear after their name. It’s the secrecy that is the problem with freemasonry.
  • that we will be expecting people to declare their AUT membership next. Well, we already do, to our employers whenever we take industrial action.
  • that a requirement for declaration is a threat to academic freedom. Our understanding of academic freedom is the right to speak out and publish your unorthodox views and beliefs. I emphasise, this motion is not about banning freemasonry, but declaring it.

So why should we expect this? What is it about freemasonry that makes it exceptional? If you believe what the Freemasons’ ruling body, the United Grand Lodge, has said "there is no conflict of interest in a freemason’s obligation and his public duty". Note the "his". Some people will argue that masons don’t show preference and favour to each other. One can only suppose that they have secret signs and codes of recognition just for the fun of it. The chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has stated that he is aware of cases in higher education where there is a potential conflict of interest, and the Times Higher Education Supplement on March 13th this year revealed lodges affiliated to several universities. We don’t know whether or not freemasonry is rife in our universities, but the opportunity is there for it to have its corrupting effect on those activities listed in our motion, and particularly on equal opportunities given the male bias of their membership.

All those areas of academic life that affect peoples’ careers and the well-being of our community should be open, transparent and accountable. The standards that are now required of the police and judiciary are no less important in higher education.

The Committee of University Chairmen has published a ‘Guide for Members of Governing Bodies …’ which advises that they should observe the Seven Principles of Public Life drawn up by the Nolan Committee. For anyone who isn’t familiar with them, the second of these is integrity. It states that ‘Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.’ The Guide also suggests that members should act and be perceived to act impartially and not be influenced by any social or business relationship and, where there are such conflicts, they should be disclosed.

We believe that freemasonry is just such a conflict, and ask that Council supports this motion .

List of all motions regarding employment debated and passed by the summer 1998 session of Imperial Council AUT Web Report Summer 1998

Resource: U.K. Association of University Teachers

Further Reading:

Pillars of the Community

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