NWU hosts lecture on academic freedom
The North-West University (NWU) successfully hosted its second annual public lecture on academic freedom on 2 September. This year’s lecture was presented by Dr Sijbolt Noorda, the current president of the Magna Charta Observatory in Bologna, Italy.
By way of introduction, both Prof Klaus Beiter, as moderator of the event, and Prof Robert Balfour, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, emphasised that academic freedom in South Africa needed to be filled “with life.” Dr Noorda then presented his thought-provoking lecture titled: “The academic freedom and autonomy challenge”. It was hosted online and well attended by staff, students, and various stakeholders.
Throughout the lecture Dr Noorda touched on various principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy from the 1988 Magna Charta Universitatum that are still relevant today.
Dr Noorda said that it is a challenge to live and maintain the freedom, openness and tolerance that should be the main characteristic of university life.
Academic freedom is the fundamental principle of university life. However, there are challenges that hamper universities in achieving this freedom. “Erosion of support and stakeholders who politically or ideologically weigh in on university matters are some of the challenges that have an influence on academic freedom,” said Dr Noorda.
He added that the main aim of universities is to meet the needs of the communities around them. Their independence aims to enable them to best serve those they are supposed to be serving. Universities need to demonstrate their positive contribution to society at large, or they could have their position of trust and reliability eroded. Universities do not exist for themselves.
The Magna Charta Observatory also developed and piloted a Living Values document and project that aim to enable universities across the world to define, achieve engagement with and live effectively in accordance with their values.
After the lecture, Dr Noorda, together with NWU academics Prof Beiter, Dr Allison Geduld, Dr Annamagriet de Wet and Mr Gideon Rossouw, answered a number of questions that the students, staff and stakeholders posed regarding academic freedom. All the participants also had the opportunity to engage with each other.
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Dr Sijbolt Noorda