Anniversary seminar: Academic freedom at 35
The SVT anniversary seminar celebrates the centre's first 35 years.
What started out modestly as a one-man show, has grown into a thriving research and teaching environment with a staff of 30. In addition to celebrating, we also take a moment to reflect. The seminar topic is academic freedom, its justification, and conditions for its realization.
The event is for employees at SVT and invited guests.
Why academic freedom, why now?
Thematically the seminar connects to discussions in the Norwegian context about the changing conditions for academic freedom. The white paper Academic freedom: Individual rights and institutional management needs (2006:19) defines individual academic freedom (as a corrolary to institutional autonomy) as
- A freedom to question – also to question what authorities consider to be established knowledge and understanding, and to question issues and assumptions to which strong interests or emotions are tied.
- A freedom to decide what material and which methods to use in the search for answers, more precisely a true or valid answer.
- A freedom to publish hypotheses, results, and arguments.
The definition is broadly in line with the Norwegian act for universities and university colleges §1-5. for which the white paper above was commissioned:
A person appointed to a position where research or academic or artistic development work is part of the duties, is entitled to choose the topic and method for his/her research [or development work] within the framework that follows from the employment contract or a special agreement.
Anyone appointed to a position as mentioned in the fifth subsection is entitled to publish their results and must make sure such publication takes place. The relevant research basis must be made available in line with good practice in the field.
The act also specifies individual responsibilities for teaching:
Each person teaching at institutions subject to this Act has an independent academic responsibility for the contents and plan for the teaching within the framework that is determined by the institution or that follows from statutes or regulations pursuant to statutes.
Furthermore, the act defines academic freedom, or autonomy, for academic institutions:
Universities and university colleges must promote and safeguard academic freedom.
Universities and university colleges are entitled to establish their own academic and value basis within the framework laid down in or pursuant to law.
Universities or university colleges may not be instructed regarding the academic content of their teaching and the content of research, nor regarding individual appointments.
This autonomy comes with an obligation to ensure transparency regarding the results of research or academic or artistic development work. These formal rights to self-determination is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for academic freedom as a practical reality, as an actual freedom of choice. (supported by the availability of resources).
However, the law is silent about the conditions for realizing these formal rights. My right to choose the topic and method for my research may be constrained by many factors. This is where the world of formal freedoms and obligations meet the real world of governance practices, work contracts, program based funding schemes and call texts, publishers' preferences, marketization, increasing electricity prices, to mention a few.
The seminar will set focus on these fault lines. What are the barriers to academic freedom and obligations? What mechanisms create academic unfreedom and heteronomy in practice. To what extent can they be justified, legitimized, opposed, resisted or eliminated?
Should we in addition to speaking about academic freedom also speak about academic virtues? Is it time to revive ideas of academic virtue that reaches beyond formal rights into the world of lived academic reality?
We are lucky to have as our distinguished invited guest speaker Ivar Bleiklie, professor emeritus at the Department of government at the UiB. Professor Bleiklie can look back on a long career studying research policy and the policy and organization of higher education. He will give us a preview, or rather a pre-hearing, of a chapter he has authored, together with Svein Michelsen, on university democracy and on how participation and influence has changed over time at UiB. This chapter will be published as part of the coming history of the University of Bergen.
This institutional framing of the question of university democracy will serve as introduction to the rest of the day.
Resources for the discussion:
Coffee and tea
University democracy, participation, and influence at UiB
Academic freedom imaginaries
Silje Aambø Langvatn
Academic freedom in PhD courses
Academic freedom of speech
Academic freedom in a global context
Emma Lord, Thorvald Sirnes and Parit Saruni