Saturday, January 28

University, cancellation and courage | opinion


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The author vindicates the free thought characteristic of the university sector and considers that the ‘woke’ culture is a type of repression of academic freedom

Protesters from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.AP

Last week the American city of Denver hosted the last congress of the Heterodox Academy. More than half a thousand university professors from all corners of the country attended the annual meeting of this association for freedom of thought and freedom of expression on the campuses of USA. In recent years, the winds of a ideological indoctrination have hit a large part of American campuses: suspension of study programs, withdrawal of the right to teach, safe spaces where the student is not bothered with challenging ideas… These are just a few examples of this cancellation culture.

Against all this, a university spirit has arisen in the United States under the impulse of a group of thinkers led by the professor of Social Psychology at the Business School of the University of New York, Jonathan Haidt, and Brown University Professor of Political Philosophy John Tomasi. From very different academic and political positions, in short, the members of HA advocate for thought open to the truth, the necessary diversity of points of view to deal with problems and a sincere desire for constructive and respectful disagreement with the person. The flag does not seem very revolutionary but the climate of correct narratives has reached such a point that the return to the origin is the new spirit flappers in the universities.

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In a country that has suffered ideological and political polarization like no other, the arrival five years ago of this group of rebels who connects with the liberal culture of the country and is expressed in terms of democratic salvation. The defense of critical thinking is at the root of liberal democracy. Only an education that respects the free scrutiny of ideas, the conception of an open and compassionate identity towards the different and a trust in reason to reach agreements for a common good, will be able to heal the wounds that still tear coexistence today, and not only the American.

Confidence in education is at the base of human flourishing and the progress of any nation. The principles that have inspired universities for a thousand years are not alien to the birth of our Western culture. Today we can say that the impulse from which the university was born was the Socratic questioning: the desire for knowledge and openness to the good (theoretical and practical truth). Our civilization is based on ethical, moral and political principles that had their intellectual mortar in the universities of Christian origin. That is why we cannot afford the deterioration of the university dialogue. Those who want to ruin several centuries of history know it well.

Heterodox Academy is not only an American benchmark. It is a university sign that stands where the ideology (or the market) woke up he wants to drown reason. In recent times we have seen numerous cases of cancellation in the United States and Europe, and also in our country. The most recent, suffered by professors Errasti and Pérez in their latest book on transgenderism, invite us to think about the intellectual nerve that sustains our university system. when the universities are suffocated by cancel culture and other types of repression of academic freedomwe are disabling our only known means of getting closer to the truth and undermining the credibility of the institutions that people should trust.

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Universities need reforms, budgets and strategic plans, without a doubt. But there is only one thing whose absence would dilute the purpose of the university character: the surrender of a spirit whose sole sensibility is the search for truth and the careful and responsible cultivation of higher education for a better society. A truth that is sought with others, that does not bow to the lure of what is useful and the interest of power. A courage for the truth that only grows when the intellectual virtues that are preached are practiced and defended.

Santiago Fernández-Gubieda He is Director of Communication at the University Clinic of Navarra.

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