Manifesto for academic freedom at European universities
A few days ago, well-known professors from all political backgrounds in Germany denounced the increasing loss of academic freedom in research and teaching in a manifesto and joined forces in a network. The real question is, how could restrictions on knowledge possibly have come this far? Prof David Engels, a Professor of Roman History in Brussels and the Poznan West Institute (Instytut Zachodni) commented on the new manifesto.
Published: February 15, 2021, 9:53 am
The success of Western civilization is largely due to its irrepressible thirst for knowledge, an urge that goes back well into the Middle Ages, prof David Engels has argued. Even then, the universities often clashed with the church, but were given the opportunity to convince in public disputes through arguments, not authority. That was the first steps on the way to the modern concept of research.
However, this freedom is now threatened everywhere in the West, for two reasons, says Engels. On the one hand, the famous “March through the Institutions” has increasingly turned teaching and research institutes into bastions of anti-conservative thinking, in which people and positions with different orientations can hardly be heard and are even actively excluded.
On the other hand, a leaden mood of political correctness has invaded in the West, in which it is no longer a question of prejudice-free discussion, but rather what is “right”. It is clear from the start what the “wrong” position is because it is enough to label the opponent as “rightwing” in order to permanently discredit him or her and to avoid the necessity of any discussion and thus also the risk of having to admit one’s own mistakes. The notion of “a lot of opinions, little knowledge” which everyone had complained about two decades ago has now become “one opinion, little knowledge” Engels added.
“The consequences of this development are enormous. As a scientist, it often means academic suicide to express views that have been commonplace for the past two to three millennia, but are now decried as “conservative”, “controversial” or even “new” right. Breaking out of the given left-green framework can not only result in Antifa visits, court actions or the hindrance of qualification work, but also prevent prospects of promotion, appointment, civil service or the third-party funding that has now become indispensable.
“At the same time, under those conditions, the youth is growing up and becoming used to political conformity from the start and feels it is normal not to be bothered with allegedly ‘hurtful’ opinions or inconvenient facts in their ideological ‘safe space’, while at the same time they are encouraged to denounce and defame those who think differently – mostly to the applause of the quality press.”
Issues which a decade ago could still be regarded as a surreal marginal opinion has now become a binding doxa thanks to the left-green hegemony over education and the media. From gender pronouns, Fridays for Future, children’s book censorship, the increased banning of classics from the “decolonized” canon in favor of “postmodernist”, “feminist” and “anti-racist” literature to lowering all performance requirements and a ridiculous grading system in which “feeling” or “individual progress” count: The “woke culture” has found its way into Europe, especially in Sweden and Germany – with catastrophic consequences if one compares the steady decline European schools and universities compared with East Asia.
It is therefore very much to be welcomed that renowned researchers from all disciplines have joined forces in the “Scientific Freedom Network” with the common concern of defending the freedom of research and teaching against ideologically motivated restrictions and excessive identity politics while helping to strengthen a liberal scientific climate.
The manifesto states: “We observe that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of research and teaching is increasingly being placed under moral and political reservations. This is an attempt to standardize research and teaching on an ideological level and to use it politically. Anyone who does not play along must expect to be discredited. In this way, pressure to conform is created, which increasingly leads to scientific debates being nipped in the bud.”
Specifically, the network intends to “counteract all attempts to restrict the academic work of university members through mutual assistance, analysis work and the organization of public debates. The only limits to this freedom are the constitution and the law”.
It is to be hoped that the “Scientific Freedom Network” will have the success it deserves since such initiatives are more important than ever. “In order for the project to go beyond a tactically successful battle of retreat, it is just as important not only to demand freedom, but also to work actively on the promotion of conservative young academics and teachers – because what is the point of guaranteeing a free discussion framework when all participants are still share the same opinion?’ Engels concluded.
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