SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 25, 2020

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):University of Silesia

Region & Country:Europe | Poland

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 25, 2020, it was reported that police interrogated several University of Silesia students in apparent retaliation for submitting a complaint about a professor who allegedly made offensive statements in class.

In March 2019, students had claimed that sociology professor Ewa Budzynska stated in class that abortion is murder, contraception is antisocial, a “normal family” consists of a man and a woman, and that gender studies is a “communist ideology.” Students accused Budzynska of promoting an anti-choice position, homophobia, anti-semitism, discrimination, views that were incompatible with science, and a radical Catholic ideology. In October 2019, consistent with Polish law, the university administration commenced a disciplinary investigation against Budzynska, which culminated in a January 2020 report recommending that Budzynska be subject to a reprimand. Budzynska resigned her position from the university in protest, and subsequently filed a criminal complaint with the local prosecutor’s office for alleged “falsification of evidence” in connection with the administrative action.

Budzynska has been supported by a religious organization known as Ordo Iuris, in both her administrative proceeding and the criminal action. In connection with the criminal proceeding, on or about May 25, 2020, police summoned the seven students who brought the complaint against Budzynska to the Katowice City police station, where they reportedly interrogated them for several hours in the presence of Ordo Iuris lawyers, although Ordo Iuris has asserted that the university administration, and not the students, are the targets of the criminal action.

Respondings to the University of Silesia case, then- Minister of Higher Education Jaroslaw Gowin vowed in 2020 to adopt an amendment to legislation defending free speech and preventing censorship at Polish universities. In defence of Budzynska, the Minister tweeted that “we will not allow the extremely ideologized groups to censor” Polish universities. The draft bill, reportedly based on an earlier draft provided by Ordo Iuris, proposes to create a committee for free speech on campus, comprised at least in part of individuals appointed by the Minister.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about criminal actions targeting students, universities, or their staff in retaliation for lawful, administrative actions, which are within a university’s authority to conduct. Criminal charges aimed at retaliating against such actions erode university autonomy and undermine academic freedom.