I’ve always wanted to work at a university to be able to do free research and publish the results. I’ve done it for seventeen years on short dates. Only two years ago I received a permanent contract for the first time, from which I can only be dismissed in the event of serious professional errors or if the entire college is closed. interval It is called in English, the current language of science.
In the previous period, I felt knots in my stomach several times. For example, when I worked for a short time at Ghent University as an assistant and had to take the oath there. Royal or not, every faculty member had to swear allegiance to the king first. Or when she participated in the Dutch doctoral jury, where the decision was put to the Statenbijbel. And when I signed my temporary contract with KU Leuven, which stipulated that I may not do anything that would harm the university.
This has always conflicted with my desire for freedom of research, and an aversion to commercial interests, political desire, religious beliefs or other forms of outside pressure. Academic freedom means that academics can decide for themselves what topics they want to research. After all, they are better informed about the current state of knowledge, controversies and gaps, as well as ways to make progress. This freedom also means that researchers are allowed to publish and teach their findings.
By protecting scholars from censorship and substantial interference based on outside interests and inflation, you also protect society from inertia and tyranny. The fact that academic freedom dates back to medieval universities does not mean that it is a certain achievement. Personally, I see it as an ideal, and its actual level fluctuates. Moreover, like democracy itself, this freedom can be hijacked or abolished from within.
Right now, for example, that freedom is under pressure because of the way we fund research. This is happening more and more with competitive enterprise applications. The point is good: to spend public money on the most promising research. Moreover, evaluation is carried out by fellow scientists, so that the course remains in the hands of professionals.
However, the system threatens freedom of research. First of all, most of the jury members are not very enthusiastic about applications from other fields, to the detriment of topics on which there are only a few specialists around the world. In addition, some funding channels are only open to research pre-selected applications.
Fortunately, there are also grants dedicated in principle to research that is purely based on curiosity. Its practical benefits, if any, are unknown or, at best, far-future music. However, even at these fairs, entry forms ask about multi-year plans and the applicability of the expected results.
Explicit and implicit expectations move from the design stage. Applicants know very well that they can only implement their beautiful plans if they receive a grant. As a result, they often suggest not the research they really find most valuable, but a project they think will do well with the jury.
It took years for me to learn about these processes, but since my residence permit for academia became final, something about my assignment came to me as well. Suddenly I realized that the examples I gave at the beginning were just minor annoyances of largely symbolic value.
Academic freedom has taken on an even greater meaning for me: it is not a non-binding admission, but rather a duty to defend and speak out for research that you find truly valuable within and outside the university itself. Professor and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison put it well in a 2003 interview. “I tell my students, ‘When you get those jobs you’ve trained so brilliantly for, remember that your real job is that if you’re a full-timer, find someone else.'” He must be released. If you have a little power, your job is to give someone else the power. This isn’t just a little bag of candy.”
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