A Q/A by Vanessa Frangville and Gwennaël Gaffric, for Transtext(e)sTranscultures’s special issue “Academic Freedom in a Global Context: Challenges and Perspectives.”
VF & GG: We often hear that academic freedom, like other “universal values”, is a western-centric concept and that specific cultural contexts should be considered in non-western countries when it comes to academic freedom. Is academic freedom universal? Why does academic freedom matter?
RQ: Academic freedom is first and foremost about the pursuit of excellence in research, teaching, and discourse. It is about the pursuit of truth. It matters because without that freedom state and non-state actors with political or other agendas will distort the content of research, teaching, and discourse on and off campus. I reject any suggestion that academic freedom is a “western” concept principally because I reject the suggestion that truth is a foreign or western concept. If the pursuit of truth (however imperfect) is universal, which I believe it is, then so is academic freedom. Secondarily, our project at Scholars at Risk is not about conversion, about convincing people around the world to import the concept of academic freedom. Rather, we believe that there are people in higher education communities that already understand academic freedom and its importance, and are working to promote it. Our role is to link these people, and to offer support as they navigate whatever local challenges there may be.
Read the full piece.