søndag den 3. juli 2011

Research freedom

In what ways has Copenhagen University’s governing board acted to protect the research freedom of the institution and its members in the Marlene Wind case? The leaders seem not to have framed their actions in public in terms of protecting the research freedom of the university as an institution, as they are required to do by law. And where is the public outcry by academics and students acting together to protect research freedom?

by Susan Wright

When Marlene Wind, in her capacity as a professor at Copenhagen University, speaks in a debate on television as an expert on the EU, she is contributing to Copenhagen University’s obligation to make knowledge available to society.
When Pia Kjærsgaard retorts with an undertone of threat that Marlene Wind is ‘finished’ and Søren Pind contemptuously dismisses her expertise, they are exercising their individual freedom of expression. They too are doing their job: as politicians, they are making their views and their personal characters crystal clear so that the public can decide whether these are the kind of people they want to vote for in future.
Videnskabsminister Charlotte Sahl-Madsen has said that, if, as a consequence of the Wind case, academics’ knowledge and insight become locked behind the doors of the university, it would be a great pity as ‘we invest in that’.
The case has largely been discussed in terms of the individual right to freedom of expression but it also raises crucial questions about research freedom and about how this freedom is to be protected if the university is to fulfill its obligations to society.
This contribution asks three questions: How is research freedom defined in Denmark? What does the law say about the duty of the university and its members to make their knowledge available in public? And who is responsible for defending the university from such assaults?

Definition of Research Freedom
In Denmark, the definition of research freedom is unclear. It is often referred to narrowly as academics’ being able to choose their own research topics and methods. In practice, academics also choose the topics, materials and methods for their research-based teaching and when and how to disseminate (formidle) their academic knowledge in public. The international panel that evaluated the 2003 university law included ‘freedom of debate’ in its analysis of research freedom and concluded
The awareness of the importance of a free academic debate is high in Denmark, and
therefore, the slightest restrictions one might suspect will be heavily and openly criticised.
… The universities are important institutions in contributing to an open debate and new knowledge in society and are thereby also a fundamental part of a democratic society. It is the opinion of the Panel that the universities in Denmark fulfil their obligation to the Danish society in this regard.

It is important that the Danish political system, including the different involved ministries, are aware of the long-term importance for the Danish society of a free academic debate (Danish Ministry of Science,Technology and Innovation 2009: 41-2)
The legal basis for this important aspect of research freedom seems to rest on the general constitutional right of all Danes to freedom of speech. But the minister, in an interview (on P1, 20 June 2011) seemed to suggest that academics have an obligation to exercise that right to public expression. But is this an individual right/obligation or is it vested in the institution of the university and its members?

University’s duty to ‘omgivende samfund’
Universities are given the special privilege of freedom to question received wisdoms, find new ways of understanding the world and raise critical social issues – however unpopular. In exchange, the university has the obligation to make ideas, discoveries and views based on academic judgments available to society.
In Denmark, such a reciprocal relationship between the university and society is set out in the 2003 university law. Clause 2 states: ‘Universitetet har forskningsfrihed’ . The clause then goes on to state:
’Universitet skal samarbejde med det omgivende samfund og …bidrage til at fremme vækst, velfærd og udvikling i samfundet.’ (§2 Stk 3)
And the Bemærkning expands on the meaning of this clause:
‘Universitetet udveksler som en integreret del af dets virke viden og kompetencer på gensidig basis med en stor kreds af aktører, organisationer, myndigheder, offentlige og private virksomheder m.v.’
If the university has a legal duty to exchange knowledge with society, through research, teaching and formidling – which includes contributing to public debate – who protects this research freedom?

Who protects research freedom?
On 19 May 2011 the clause 2 of the university law was revised to make it absolutely clear that the university is expected to exercise and protect its right to research freedom both as an institution and through the work of each of its members :
‘Universitetet har forskningsfrihed. Universitetet skal værne om universitetets og den enkeltes forskningsfrihed og om videnskabsetikken.’ (§2 Stk. 2. Revised on 19. maj 2011)
As this clause also makes clear, it is the university that has to protect its own, and its members, research freedom. Nobody else will do this for them – unless the Minister, seeing that the university is failing in this regard, exercises her ‘tilsyn’.
When the 2003 university law made universities into ‘selvejende institutioner’, this meant, amongst other things, that all the actors in surrounding society can now make requests for collaboration, demands for service, or assaults on universities as they think fit. It is up to the university to work out how to both interact with surrounding society and defend its research freedom. Nobody else can be relied on to help them. Universities have to stand up for themselves.

Who is the university?
If the university law is clear that ‘the university’ must protect its own and its members research freedom, it is not clear who the university is and how it does this. Who is responsible for protecting the institution’s research freedom in a case such as this?
One clause in the 2003 university law (Stk 10) suggests that ‘the university’ may mean the governing board (bestyrelsen)
’Bestyrelsen er øverste myndighed for universitetet. Bestyrelsen varetager universitetets interesser som uddannelses- og forsknings-institution og fastlægger retningslinjer for dets organisation, langsigtede virksomhed og udvikling’
The governing board delegates powers to the rector, and he delegates to deans and institute leaders, so responsibility for protecting research freedom could lie with all the leadership.
But in what ways has Copenhagen University’s governing board acted to protect the research freedom of the institution and its members in the Marlene Wind case? The rector and the institute leader have spoken in the media, but these pronouncements have been mainly framed in terms of protecting an individual’s rights of expression. There is now lack of clarity whether Marlene Wind’s withdrawal from media contact is to protect her personally or to impose a muzzle on her (mundkurv). Either way, the leaders seem not to have framed their actions in public in terms of protecting the research freedom of the university as an institution and as enacted by its individual member, as they are required to do by law.

Another way of thinking about ‘the university’ is as a community of scholars and students –either within one university or ‘universally’. This implies that responsibility for protecting the university’s academic freedom is shared much more widely – by members of Marlene Wind’s discipline and their professional associations in Denmark and Europe, by all academics and their disciplinary associations and unions, and by all students and their unions. Now some other Danish EU specialists are bringing their expertise to bear on the implications of the Danish government’s actions for the Schengen agreement. But why has Marlene Wind’s department not convened a seminar of specialists from across Europe to discuss the issue and make their views known? Where more generally is the public outcry by academics and students acting together to protect research freedom?

The university law gives the university and its individual members the special right to ‘research freedom’. It makes it the duty of the university to share its knowledge with the surrounding society. It also makes clear that the university is now a self-owning institution and cannot rely on anyone else protecting this precious right and asset. If technically the university’s leaders have to protect the university’s rights and ability to fulfill its duty to society, morally this obligation to protect this civil institution also lies with all the researchers and students in the academic community – and perhaps with society at large as well.

Danish Ministry of Science,Technology and Innovation 2009 ‘Danish University Evaluation 2009 – Evaluation report’ Copenhagen: The Danish University and Property Agency (2 July 2011)

Susan Wright
Professor of Educational Anthropology
Danish School of Education
Aarhus University
Tuborgvej 164
2400 København NV

Co-editor of LATISS (Learning and Teaching: the International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences) http://journals.berghahnbooks.com/ltss/

Research Programme Leader of EPOKE - Education, Policy and Organisation in the Kn owledge Economy. http://www.dpu.dk/forskning/forskningsprogrammer/epoke/

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