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Does academic freedom still matter?

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom, the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure. Its basic elements include the freedom of teachers to inquire into any subject that evokes their intellectual concern; to present their findings to their students, colleagues, and others; to publish their data and conclusions without control or censorship; and to teach in the manner they consider professionally appropriate. For students, the basic elements include the freedom to study subjects that concern them and to form conclusions for themselves and express their opinions.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

A scholarly career can be destroyed by universities or governments on the alleged grounds that the content of the work, real or imagined, is determined to be a threat to existing powers. Perhaps it was the syllabus for a course or the topic of a dissertation thesis that one advises that brings down the wrath of the state; or perhaps it was occasioned by the political positions one has taken within the university or outside its walls – unionization, demilitarization, opposition to nationalism. Those political positions are distorted by the censors, and by those with the power to destroy a career and expel a citizen; these positions are the exaggerated, demonized, and sensational version of the political positions the scholar may hold. For instance, a call for democracy is interpreted as sedition; a call for peace mutates into an alliance with terrorism; a call for freedom is taken to be a call to violence. As we know, the actual political viewpoints for which scholars are punished can be directed toward a government or its policies, about the university and its unfair practices, its modes of exploitation, or its use of the security police to quell open inquiry and public discussion, to conduct surveillance, its ties to corporate or state interests that leads it to police its faculty. And we know that it can be the university that censors and dismissed the faculty, or the regional government, or the state, or a complicitous alliance among these authorities.

Judith Butler, Scholars At Risk 

Berlin, 20 April 2018

Scholars At Risk

Scholars at Risk is an international network of institutions and individuals whose mission it is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom.

By arranging temporary academic positions at member universities and colleges, Scholars at Risk offers safety to scholars facing grave threats, so scholars’ ideas are not lost and they can keep working until conditions improve and they are able to return to their home countries.

Scholars at Risk also provides advisory services for scholars and hosts, campaigns for scholars who are imprisoned or silenced in their home countries, monitoring of attacks on higher education communities worldwide, and leadership in deploying new tools and strategies for promoting academic freedom and improving respect for university values everywhere.

Institutions and individuals who share in these values are invited to join the Network and get involved in SAR’s opportunities for engagement including hosting threatened scholars, advocating for imprisoned academics, monitoring attacks on higher education and joining working groups, among others.

universities, colleges and associations

national sections with several more being formed


partner networks

All this means more opportunities to help scholars, raise awareness, and demand greater protection for universities, scholars, students, and academic freedom.


InSPIREurope promotes cooperation across Europe in support of researchers at risk. As pressures on academic freedom are growing around the world, so too are pressures on individual researchers. InSPIREurope partners join forces across Europe to respond.

When researchers are at risk, and excluded from participating in the global research circuit, whether due to discrimination, persecution or violence, not only are individual lives and careers at risk – the very future of research is also at stake.
InSPIREurope begins from the view that excellence in research depends upon open scientific debate, and is driven by a multiplicity of ideas, people and perspectives. The skills and attributes of researchers at risk represent significant potential for the receiving countries in Europe.

However, for such potential to be fully realised on a Europe-wide scale, well- coordinated efforts by a diverse set of experienced actors are required. Therefore, European partners organise to build a cross-sectoral European support structure, develop the network of actors supporting the scholars and preparing the work environment in Europe at the hosting institution.

project partners

associate partners

international partner

advisory board members

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 857742

Freedom of expression is something different than academic freedom

Freedom of expression is a general term referring to every person. It is a broader term than academic freedom, and it is based on international human rights standards. It refers to every opinion – creative, artistic, personal, ideological, partisan or dogmatic.

Academic freedom is a specific term based on higher education principles that protects the freedom of Academia’s members and institutions. Both of them are partially separable. Not every issue protected by academic freedom is also protected by freedom of expression and not every issue protected by freedom of expression is protected by academic freedom.



Privatisation of universities can solve most of the issues related to academic freedom

Privatisation of universities may solve some of the problems related to the limitations of academic freedom arising from the governmental funding and governmental educational programmes.

However, private universities are usually funded by private donors or/and institutions. This may lead to favoritism towards specific groups or research themes and infringement of core academic values – such as equitable access and institutional autonomy.  



There is no censorship in Polish academia

Recently (May 2019) Agnieszka Taurogińska-Stich, a Polish academic from the General Tadeusz Kościuszko’s Military University of Land Forces was a victim of academic censorship.

Agnieszka Taurogińska-Stich conducted doctoral research on attitudes towards leadership among military students. The findings of this study show that after a few years of studying at the university the respect for national symbols and loyalty to the authorities decrease. The university could have used this valuable data to improve their teaching methods but instead they threatened the researcher with disciplinary dismissal if she publishes the results that threaten their public respect.

Academic freedom is a beautiful idea but when actual infringement of it happens – there is nothing I can do

First of all, when you feel that your academic rights have been violated, you should address your issue to the authorities of your university. It can be the director of your faculty or school, an ethics committee, the Dean or even the Rector of your  institution.

You can always address your issue to the Scholars at Risk Network ( They will gladly answer all your questions and if it is necessary, provide help.

Professors can freely express their political opinions at the university

A socially engaged approach to academic freedom posits that every member of the academic community should have the freedom to express their opinions and values.

However, professors, due to their authority., should distinguish whether they are expressing personal opinions or facts.

Academic freedom guarantees the basic right to freely express every opinion without any limitations

Academic freedom guarantees the freedom of expression of one’s opinion at the university and beyond (according to the socially engaged point of view) – which is a necessity for open discussion to take place.

However, there are some limitations of this freedom. Every member of Academia should be aware that they represent the academic community as a whole and can influence general opinions. Informed by this ethical awareness, every opinion should be cautious and if possible, literature-based.

There is no place for discrimination and hate speech within the academic community.


Academic freedom refers mostly to the freedom of university academic employees – not students

Academic Freedom is a general term that refers to every member of an academic community.

Students have the same rights as university employees.

developed by Kacper Michalak


Does Academic Freedom still matter?
Migration, Refugee Crisis and the Role of Academia
Intensive courses have been organised in cooperation with the Scholars at Risk, which protects scholars suffering threats to their lives, liberty and well-being by arranging temporary research and teaching positions at member institutions of Scholars at Risk Network.

Prof. Unni Wikan

University of Oslo

A Norwegian antropologist, author of the book entitled ‘Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture in the New Europe’. All over Western Europe, many non-Western immigrants are subject to marginalisation, discrimination, and increasing segregation. Unni Wikan shows, based on her research, how an excessive respect for ‘their culture’ has been part of the problem. Culture has become a new concept of race, and sustaining ethnic identity politics leads to subverting human rights – especially for women and children. Fearful of being considered racist, state agencies have sacrificed freedom and equality in the name of culture.

Dr Olga S. Hünler (Turkey)

University of Bremen

A clinical psychologist specialised in migration, gender, sexuality and the body. She has nearly a decade of experience teaching at the university level and has conducted research in Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. She has held a leadership role in a psychological association that accredited psychologists and promoted women’s and LGBTI rights in Turkey. She is currently hosted as a visiting researcher at a university in Germany where she conducts research on immigrants from Turkey and their construction of masculinity. As one of the 1128 academics who signed the petition titled “We Shall Not Be Party to This Crime”, also known as the Peace Petition, she has also been a target of the authoritarian regime in Turkey.

Khalil Ahmad Arab (Afghanistan)

Jagiellonian University

A refugee from Afghanistan and a political scientist interested in human rights issues and migration. He focuses his research on brain drain processes in the Middle Eastern countries, which can be described as a process in which a country loses its most educated and talented citizens to other countries through migration.

Nour A. Munawar (Syria)

University of Amsterdam

He is currently completing his PhD in the Netherlands. He holds two MAs in archaeology with specialisations in heritage management and the Middle East. He has conducted extensive comparative research on the preservation of cultural heritage in conflict areas and published and lectured on related topics. In addition, he has worked on four excavation sites throughout Poland and Syria, was a researcher at a cultural heritage agency in the Netherlands and served as a heritage advisor for a museum in Syria.

Wassim Ibrahim (Syria)

Academy of Music in Kraków

A Syrian musician, composer and a PhD in Music Composition at the Academy of Music in Kraków. The founder of the international ‘Choir in Contact’ in Kraków. In cooperation with the Institute of Sociology he has lectured on the history of Syrian music.

Dangerous Question:
Why Academic Freedom Matters

Academic freedom is a fundamental value in modern higher education and research. Within this course, you will find out how we can use academic freedom to ask critical questions and contribute to a democratic society. You will explore the importance of free and open research and how it relates to core higher education and societal values. You will understand why academic freedom is crucial for maintaining the quality and relevance of research in higher education. You will learn about some of the current threats to academic freedom and how this relates to the academic community worldwide.

Dr Olga S. Hünler (Turkey),

Uniwersytet w Bremen

A clinical psychologist specialised in migration, gender, sexuality and the body. She has nearly a decade of experience teaching at the university level and has conducted research in Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. She held a leadership role in a psychological association that accredited psychologists and promoted women’s and LGBTI rights in Turkey. She is currently hosted as a visiting researcher at a university in Germany where she conducts research on immigrants from Turkey and their construction of masculinity. As one of the 1128 academics who signed the petition titled “We Shall Not Be Party to This Crime”, also known as the Peace Petition, she has also been a target of the authoritarian regime in Turkey.

Yasser Almaamoun (Syria)

Center for Political Beauty

A Syrian activist and architect. He has lived and worked in Berlin since 2013, where he completed a master degree from the HTW Berlin in ‘Construction and Real Estate Management’. He has also been involved with the Center for Political Beauty since 2014. He has worked with the German Historical Museum on the project “Multaqa – Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums”.

Civil disobedience in the eyes of Center for Political Beauty

A journey through the works and methods done and used by the Center for Political Beauty to tackle social and political debates under the name of art. From an architect‘s perspective, how can cities withstand new world developments and adapt to new technologies without losing their spirit and culture, however constant or dynamic they are. Followed up by a discussion on transferring knowledge and the impact of small movements in aggregation to reach a critical mass in the digital world.

Kholoud Charaf (Syria)


A poet, art critic and journalist. In 2003 she graduated from the University of Damascus in medical laboratory technician studies. . For a decade she worked as a medical analyst in a variety of institutions. Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, she started studying literature, but her studies were interrupted by the conflict. In 2016 she published her debut volume entitled Resztki motyla/Remains of a butterfly. Since March 2017 she has been in Kraków, as a resident of ICORN Cities of Refuge Network programme for journalists and writers in danger of persecution.

Which part of your body is your identity?

No one teaches us how to be a human being or to accept others as they are. They taught us only to build strong borders surrounding our countries – around areas that have long existed naturally without borders.

We must guard against our mind’s tendency to view people as one generalised category because we are all more than that.

Activist Brunch with Academics for Peace (Turkey)

Academics for Peace is a group that unites more than 2,000 individuals supporting peace in the south-east of Turkey. They are among the 1128 signatories of a petition released in January 2016 calling for an end to violence in the region. In the petition, the signatories said that they were condemning both the state violence against the Kurds and the Turkish state’s ongoing violation of its own laws and international treaties.

Hundreds of them have been fired from their jobs, their passports have been cancelled and confiscated, they were prevented from finding jobs, several were physically and verbally threatened, others were taken into custody, four of them who read a press statement condemning these violations were imprisoned, hundreds have been robbed from the right to work in the public sector through governmental decrees and finally all of them are currently facing individualised courtsuits. Despite all this repression, threats and endless harassment, a great majority of these academics have continued to stand up for their initial statement, resist and collectively support each other.
Academics for Peace received the 2018 Courage to Think Defender Award, for their extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.

Student’s reviews of the course

Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this course. Meetings with these extraordinary scholars led me to a deeper reflection on the “refugee crisis”, its multi-faceted nature and complexity. The interdisciplinarity of the course was a huge plus. I hope that such classes will arise more and more 🙂

Thank you very much for organizing such a great, interdisciplinary course, addressing such an important topic. I can’t wait for the next edition, if it is planned.

I would like to thank to all the ones that have made this course possible, I have never attend to any similar course and it has been really interesting, you are showing student important nowadays issues and also you have make us think by ourselves and make our own reflexions from all the amazing lectures we have had the pleasure to attend.

Students’ voices

I strongly believe that freedom should always constitute equality, inclusion and fair representation. The university has for a long time been the place where people have been encouraged to question the top-down standards and demand answers that have not been always obvious. Saying ‘because it used to be like this for ages’ is not a good enough answer any more. The world around us is changing rapidly day by day. People who have been silenced for so many decades are finally taking a stand and fighting against heteropatriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism. In my opinion, it is the university’s duty to provide these individuals with a safe learning environment where they can develop and further fight for their equal rights. As one of the core higher education values is equitable access.



The  attitude  of  the  European  society  towards  those  who  ask  for  asylum is well-known.  Distrust, fear, a national preference and even a certain indifference. Face  this  situation  is  a  moral,  intellectual  and  pragmatic  duty  of  the  university  and the  academic atmosphere, in general, is to fight against this. Academic freedom means education, investigation and dissemination of knowledge without any coercion. But for what do we want this freedom if the Academy is not able to transmit and use the  knowledge  to  improve  the  civil  society  and  the  whole  world  in  general?  For what do we want academic freedom if it is in an isolated environment, busy with their intellectual discussions when out there is  ignorance, misinformation or economic  interests that build popular opinions. Nowadays the voice of a TV or radio character is more considered than the one of an expert in the matter. Are academics themselves guilty of their own discredit?



To solve this issue, transparency is the first step to identify options for cooperation and to reverse potential dependencies between universities and outside investors. Secondly, all universities should have adequate and predictable research funds provided by the state. Thirdly, awareness among students should be raised that cooperation between universities and companies, although profitable for them (in terms of student jobs, etc.) can restrict research freedoms. Fourth, professors should speak out about possible pressures to follow certain research paths. Needless to say, their institutions need to stand firmly behind them.



Expectations of university’s stakeholders are focused on changing the most basic ideasf about academic institutions. Beliefs such as that nowadays universities are supposed to function as non-governmental organisations or take on a corporate character negatively affect educational, cognitive and developmental values. In addition, such phenomena as​ mental corruption (after: Kołakowski), degradation of humanities or the increasingly common role of ​academic capitalism contribute to the growing disappearance of the academic culture based on the university’s ideals functioning in accordance with the classical concepts of the Academy. Withdrawal from this basic mission of disinterested criticism towards society, political and economic life, makes the university’s role in shaping and influencing society begin to blur. Etos, in accordance with its internal and external function, cannot be reduced and adapted to the current fad. Transformation of the university is certainly necessary and it is inevitable. Therefore it is vital to ask the question what kind of values ​​should guide the new university of the 21st century.



Disobedience in thinking is a constitutive feature and a moral duty of every scientist. Academics fulfil some kind of a social mission, thus, they have obligations to the society and not to politicians, the government or the church. If we want to discuss academic freedom it is necessary to highlight the issue of scientific freedom. Firstly, academic freedom may be at risk if there is a possibility of incompatibility between thought and word. The theme of profit and career encourages obedience but personal benefits are not the only factors that limit freedom of researchers – submission to the prevailing ideology as well as fear and passivity threaten the reliability of scientists as well. Non-conformity and multiplicity of views implicate a development of science, which is possible only with freedom of speech. Confronting different notions allow to verify the most accurate thoughts and – owing to substantive, independent discourse – develop science.



Spain  is  not  an  authoritarian country  and it  allows  most  of  the  issues,  including  some  controversial  ones,  to  be  dealt with in academic spaces. However, this country so ‘advanced’ does not allow the total freedom of chair or teachers and students. What is the problem? The  problem,  in  my  opinion,  is  that  governments  around  the  world  are  afraid  of  the power that students have. They know that we have the power to change the world and that is why they want us relaxed, asleep and submissive. They do not want us to know why  people  immigrate  from  one  country  to  another, they  do  not  want  us  to  know  that there  are  other  ways  of  living  our  gender  and  sexuality,  they  do  not  want  us  to  know everything  there  is  to  learn.  Therefore, whenever  someone  in the  academic  field approaches any of these topics, their rights are limited. It is the case of the right to academic freedom. The current issue is not whether academic freedom is still a problem, the main question is what can we do from the academic field to solve this violation of rights. In my case this solution begins with the revolution.