Whether disrupting unpopular lectures or seminars, refusing to engage in scientific debate on the basis of political or religious attitudes, or exerting politically motivated pressure on scientists: recently, more and more cases have become known in which attempts have been made to curtail or dispute scientists’ constitutional right to academic freedom. For this reason, a code has now been drawn up at the University of Hamburg that defines the freedom of science and draws clear boundaries for infringements of this freedom. The university is hereby joining a chain of scientific organizations that have addressed the issue and is one of the first universities to anchor a code for the protection of scientific freedom in its mission statement.
A year after 70 scientists founded the “Netzwerk Wissenschaftsfreiheit” (Network for freedom of science), it has grown to over 700 members. Academia in Germany is, however, still very much divided on this issue.
How free is science in Germany? In recent years, more and more voices have been raised that see the fundamental right from Article 5, paragraph 3, sentence 1 of the Constitution in danger. On the one hand, in times of pandemics and climate change, the relationship between science and democratic politics is being discussed controversially.
On the other hand, the debate about the great good of freedom of opinion, which is said to be endangered by identity-political “discourse controls” and “cancel culture”, also touches on the academic sphere. In contrast, other developments that can impair the freedom of research and teaching, such as financial or organisational ones, receive less attention.
Press release, 3 February 2021
Foundation of the Network for Academic Freedom
70 academics from German-speaking countries and various academic disciplines have joined forces in the Network for Academic Freedom. They are making their appeal for academic freedom public for the first time today.
They are concerned about the increasing narrowing of questions, topics and arguments in academic research. In many places, a climate has developed at universities in which dissenting positions and opinions are marginalised and morally sanctioned. These restrictions on academic freedom often follow an ideological or political agenda. They hinder a rational and open-ended search for knowledge, which is at the core of the freedom of science in the tradition of the Enlightenment. Cancel Culture and Political Correctness have caused the free and controversial debate even of outsider positions to disappear in many places at universities.
With their appeal and the founding of the network, the academics want to defend and strengthen the prerequisites of free research and teaching. They advocate a culture of debate characterised by factual arguments and mutual respect. Intellectual freedom, curiosity and intellectual diversity are indispensable for this.