Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsHi, my name is Olga and I'm a psychologist from Turkey. I'm a post-doc researcher in Bremen University. And my main research area is gender masculinity and migration.

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 secondsI'm Rob Quinn, the executive director of Scholars At Risk. Scholars At Risk is an international network of universities dedicated to promoting academic freedom. When I decided to be an academic, I realised that I'm really enjoying asking questions and trying to find some answers and new answers and change those answers with better ones. As a lead educator in this course, I hope to help you understand some of the difficult aspects of academic freedom so that you can begin to appreciate more your role in asking questions and helping us all to find answers to difficult and even dangerous questions.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsThe reason why I'm engaging in this programme as a lead educator is, I believe that every student, every academic, every researcher should have a right to ask questions they want to answer. So I believe that endorsing academic freedom is important for anybody and everywhere. Are some questions too dangerous to ask? And what does that have to do with academic freedom? We'll talk about that. We'll talk about the types of threats to those trying to exercise academic freedom. And the sources of those threats. In this course, we are going to give examples and tools for you to use in your classroom, in your campuses, in your academic network, to discuss what academic freedom is.

Welcome to the course

This course is intended to inform and encourage discussion about what academic freedom is, how it relates to other core higher education values, and why it is important not only to scholars, but to everyone.

The course starts from the view that healthy higher education communities matter enormously. They are engines of knowledge production, discovery, innovation, skills development, cultural preservation, and national progress. But to be healthy, higher education communities must be grounded in core values. These include academic freedom, but also and equally important; equitable access, accountability, institutional autonomy, and social responsibility.

Where these values are respected and flourish, higher education communities not only contribute necessary skills and services to society but also maximize the capacity of individuals to think for themselves and make informed, creative contributions to their own lives as well as to the lives of others.

Without these values, the provision of higher education and the perceived social, political, and cultural functions of higher education narrow. Attempts to broaden these can be interpreted by some as destabilizing—triggering violent attacks, coercion, politicization, and undue external interference with higher education communities. Security suffers, and with it the quality of teaching and research.

Moreover, quite apart from such violent or coercive pressures, higher education communities today are under enormous structural and competitive pressures arising from globalization, commercialization, commodification of knowledge, so-called disruptive technologies, and more. These risk squeezing out core values, not because of hostility, but because of the complexity of implementing them in widely varied settings. This is especially true in higher education, as institutions embrace cross-border partnerships ranging from simple research exchanges to branch campuses that can not only offer many positive opportunities but also pose challenges for institutions and scholars and students working in or with institutions and people from places where higher education values are not well understood or respected.

This course aims to give you information and frameworks for discussing and analyzing these challenges. In the process, we hopes to help you avoid two traps.

The first trap is neglect, the tendency to avoid wrestling with complex and often competing values claims by limiting mention of values to general statements of support for academic freedom and autonomy, without developing any practical procedures for implementation. When the inevitable values-related incidents arise—and they do—stakeholders are left seeking solutions after the fact, often under time or other constraints, with little consensus or social or political capital to call upon. An example of neglect might be an overseas teaching program involving faculty from both partner institutions that is silent as to whether academic freedom principles apply equally to faculty from the overseas and the local institutions.

Neglect often leads to the second trap of oversimplification, where actors confronting a values-related issue privilege one value over all others, eroding the legitimacy of outcomes. An example of oversimplification might be a student movement demanding more equitable access to higher education but adopting tactics that undermine the physical safety of campus communities, inviting security responses that erode institutional autonomy.

In place of these, this course urges proactive examination of values issues and the development of “ritualizing” practices that can build respect and understanding. It suggests frameworks for exploring multilayered values issues and urges the development of a wider range of responses to incidents.

This course does not offer specific answers to how to respond to specific values-related incidents. Rather, it suggests a framework for analyzing and discussing situations involving values questions constructively with others.

The course also invites your help. We invite your help in developing new suggestions for strategies for developing proactive, pro-values practices. We invite your help in developing new kinds of responses to values-incidents when they arise. And we invite your participation in course discussions. This will not only help you develop facility with the concepts discussed in the course, but will help the course organizers and your fellow participants deepen their understanding of the wide range of perspectives and contexts in which values-related questions arise. What do these issues look like where you come from? We want to know.

The course has been produced as part of the Academic Refuge project, which is a strategic partnership between the University of Oslo, the University of Ljubljana, the Scholars at Risk network and the UNICA network of universities from the capitals of Europe. We have two associate partners; the European Association for International Education (EAIE) and the European University Association (EUA). This project has received funding from the European Union’s Erasmus + programme under grant agreement No 2016-1-NO01-KA203-022043. This course contains information which was obtained under contract with the European Union. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The European Union.

This course draws on the extensive experience of the course organizers in higher education, international higher education partnerships, human rights and, especially, in assisting individual scholars and students who have had their academic freedom limited or who have been otherwise restricted or threatened. The information presented does not necessarily reflect the views of all of the organizers or their respective members, and the organizers invite any invites comments and suggestions for future revisions to the course, including, especially, additional questions for discussion, case examples, videos, and model language or practices.

So let’s begin by introducing ourselves to the other course participants.

Where are you from?

Why are you taking the course?

Do you have a personal or professional experience you can share that makes you want to learn more about academic freedom?

Please introduce yourself in the comments section.

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This video is from the free online course:

Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters

University of Oslo

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