Prof Beiter puts academic freedom violations under the spotlight

by  Menziwa Msibi

North-West University (NWU) academic from the Faculty of Law, Prof Klaus Beiter recently presented a talk at the Annual Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI) Network Conference in Bilbao, Spain.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Human rights defenders under siege”.

Prof Beiter says human rights defenders are people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights in a peaceful manner, often risking their lives or livelihoods.

“Whistle-blowers are human rights defenders. So are those fighting for the rights of indigenous people or against commercial interests destroying the environment,” he adds.

Prof Beiter’s talk was titled “Academic freedom violations 2.0 - The commercial attack on universities and its effect on academics’ role as human rights defenders”.

He explains that academic freedom violations 1.0 are usually perpetrated by authoritarian or illiberal regimes against those academics whose scholarly views conflict with the vision of those in power.

“These violations took the form of direct attacks on the autonomy of universities or the right of speech of academics, and manifested themselves in infringements, especially civil rights. Violations 2.0 comes from the commercialisation of higher education and research.”

Prof Beiter defines commercialisation as typically accompanied by phenomena such as a high measure of academic self-censorship, a performative work environment where academics lack the time and energy to fully exercise academic freedom, and reduced emphasis on disinterested science.

“Commercialisation is regarded as a rule that entails an erosion of academic self-governance, collegiality, job security, and the genuine independence of universities, which is unique from their technical autonomy. All of these aspects are protected under UNESCO’s Recommendation concerning Higher-Education Teaching Personnel of 1997.”

He concludes that these phenomena undermine the truth-seeking role of academics and therefore, their role as societal human rights defenders.

Prof Klaus Beiter

Submitted on Fri, 09/29/2023 - 08:22