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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds In the past 10 years or so, there appeared to be an opening up in the democratic space. And there was definitely a growing sense of entitlement to criticise, to voice our opinion. But in the past four years, the government has really clamped down hard on us, and it shows. For an example, it used to be thought that only academics who push themselves out in the public eye– by giving public lectures, by writing in the newspapers, et cetera– it’s only these chaps who were in danger, because you were obvious. You were out there. But those who did just pure academic work were somehow immune, partly because I don’t think our government reads the academic journals.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 seconds I don’t think they have the patience, nor the intelligence to go through our academic journals. So whatever you say, it doesn’t get through them. But if you write in the newspapers, then they take notice. So I think that was the general thinking in the past. You push yourself out in the public eye, then you’re at risk. But if you just keep yourself within academia, then you’re not. But I think that’s now– the concern now, the fear now is seeping even into our normal academic endeavour, where people are censoring themselves even when they’re writing for purely academic journals or purely academic works and books, et cetera. So definitely, there is an effect there. Swedish universities are still quite safe spaces.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds We are not under particular threats, but we can see things coming, because in Sweden, as other Nordic countries, we are seeing the rise of the extreme right, populist parties. Which often, at least in Sweden, they have quite a negative view on humanities and social sciences, and not to mention my own discipline, gender studies. Right-wing populists love to ridicule gender research, for example, not least gender research that circulates around questions concerning ethnicity, racism and sexuality.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds We face a lot of negative comments on social media, Twitter not least, as a university as such, and in particular, gender studies.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 seconds I would say that the group that suffers most from that is not us academics, but actually the students.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds We had one occasion– it was a couple of years ago– a journalist went out to campus and started to interview students. They actually targeted very young students deliberately and asked them if they thought that gender is a social construction. And most of them said yes. And then they said, so if you want to identify as a dog, can you say that you are a dog, and nobody can object to that? And spread that on social media. That was quite hard for the students.

Skip to 3 minutes and 46 seconds It affects our reputation. But then you can ask yourself, does it affect you in a negative or actually a positive way that you are targeted by right-wing populists? Because it actually shows that we have ethical values that we stand for– questions concerning democracy and equal rights, anti-discrimination, anti-racism, and so on. We are training students– young adults– with critical thinking skills to be active and questioning citizens in our democracy. So there’s a pedagogical mission at the college and a political one. And guns on campus, I argue, will undermine that.

Skip to 4 minutes and 30 seconds As if fulfilling these fears, there was a report this past spring that a faculty group at the University of Houston, the faculty had convened in a setting like this to talk about how to prepare for the law that was going to come into effect in the fall when there would be guns in the classrooms. And one faculty peer group offered a set of recommendations. And some of these recommendations to their peers– their other faculty– was, they said, be careful discussing sensitive topics. Drop certain topics from your curriculum. Don’t go there if you sense anger. So this, of course, was troubling, because it suggests a form of self-censorship.

Examples: Sources of threats to academic freedom

In this video, we present examples of sources of threats to academic freedom. Using the list below, can you identify what source of threat is represented by each part of the video?

  1. State threats to academic freedom
  2. Civil society threats to academic freedom
  3. Threats to academic freedom from within the higher education sector

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