In September 2021, the Academy of Music in Gdańsk dismissed Professor Maciej Grzywacz, a renowned musician and head of the university’s Department of Jazz and Popular Music, after he defended his students’ right to perform and share music containing political messaging.
Prior to his dismissal, Grzywacz had worked at the Academy for over twenty years and had received praise and awards from the university’s leadership. He had also been named a Belvedere professor by the Polish government – the highest possible rank in Polish academia.
On June 8, 2021, the Academy’s YouTube channel was scheduled to broadcast a concert planned by students in the Department of Jazz and Popular Music. The broadcast contained an array of spoken and musical pieces centered on the themes of earth, wind, fire, and water, including a performance of the rap song “Nie żałować” (“I do not regret”) by one of the Academy’s students, Natalia Capelik-Muianga. The song contains political messaging and imagery, such as references to women’s protests, “a slave regime,” and an appeal for the Polish population to “embrace yourselves, because the time has come, that’s enough” (translated from Polish via Google Translate).
On the day that the broadcast was set to occur, the Academy’s senate and rector, Ryszard Minkiewicz, decided to cancel it. According to Wiadomości, Minkiewicz attributed the cancellation to a legal opinion that found “the publication of the song [could] expose the author to the accusation of committing an offense against morality, as well as the accusation of insulting a public authority” (translated from Polish via Google Translate). However, Grzywacz has debated the objectivity of the legal opinion due to ties of a university council member to the firm that produced it.
Although the rector instructed Grzywacz to announce that the concert had been canceled due to technical reasons, Grzywacz refused due to the absence of actual technical issues. Instead, he posted on the Department of Jazz and Popular Music’s Facebook page – which he ran – that the rector had canceled the broadcast due to the political nature of one of the program’s songs. On that same post, Grzywacz commented from his personal account that he, as the head of the department, disagreed with the rector’s decision and would be attempting to persuade the Academy to reverse it and to protect the freedom of artistic expression.
In a statement he released on social media after his dismissal, Grzywacz claimed that he defended the students who had planned the broadcast at an extraordinary session of the Academy’s senate, of which he was a democratically elected member. He expressed his belief that the cancellation of the broadcast limited the students’ constitutionally protected rights and encouraged the senate to arrange talks, debate, and mediation about artistic creation and expression. Despite his arguments, the senate decided to cancel the broadcast indefinitely.
Then, in September, Grzywacz received a notice from the Academy stating that he had been dismissed from his position. He was not given any prior notices raising concerns about his actions nor was he given any opportunity to contest the decision. According to TOK FM, the notice officially attributed Grzywacz’s dismissal to his alleged refusal to participate in two meetings organized by the Academy, his attempts to advance his “own vision of the development of the Academy” (translated from Polish via Google Translate), and his absence for the first week of September, even though, as the source notes, academics often have irregular work hours and work from home. According to Wiadomości, the university’s reasons also included “problems with administering the university’s social profile” (translated from Polish via Google Translate). Dr. Krystina Stańko – a famous jazz singer and lecturer who oversaw the organization of the broadcast – was apparently also disciplined by the Academy, although no details were provided about what disciplinary action was taken.
According to Dziennek Baltycki, Grzywacz stated that his dismissal marked the first time the Academy had ever fired a “full professor.” He also asserted that it was “not a disciplinary dismissal,” but a response to his “defense of female students and their rights as artists” (translated from Polish via Google Translate). Speaking with the same source, Dr. Marek Rocławski – one of the Academy’s vice-rectors – argued that Grzywacz’s claims about the reasons he was fired should be “categorically denied” (translated from Polish via Google Translate). Grzywacz challenged his dismissal in the labor court, which then proposed mediation, but representatives from the Academy denied the proposal.
Students, alumni, and academics across Poland have signed letters of support for Grzywacz and several members of Poland’s parliament have raised his case with the country’s Minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university firing a professor for expression critical of the university and his defense of students’ right to freedom of expression – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Poland is a party. SAR is further concerned by the university’s decision to censor its students’ expressive activity by canceling a student-organized event. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from placing politically or ideologically motivated restrictions on expressive and academic activities so long as they are peaceful and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victim, dismissals and other politically motivated restrictions on expressive and academic activities undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.