In defence of academic freedom Featured
The threats by Patriotic Front Lusaka Province secretary Kennedy Kamba to University of Zambia James Kayula for commenting on President Edgar Lungu’s third term bid are unacceptable and must stop.
These threats violet our lecturers and students’ academic freedom.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to teach and discuss; carry out research and publish the results and make them known; freely express opinions about the academic institution or system in which one works; participate in professional or representative academic bodies and not to be censored. It is grounded in democratic values that encourage scholars to be relevant to the larger society outside their classrooms. It is for this reason that the performance of scholars, for example at the University of Zambia, are evaluated against core values such as excellence, innovativeness, integrity, equity, social justice and social responsiveness. Political affiliation is definitely not one of the core values against which the credibility of law lecturers can be measured.
Academic freedom is the right of every scholar to explore, discuss and engage the general public within areas of specific and related expertise. The expertise of lawyers and law lecturers extends to all aspects of human endeavor because lawyers are called upon to adjudicate matters of birth and death; marriage and divorce; so what is special about the eligibility of a mortal president to lead others even more experienced and principled than him?
Our ruling party leaders and their supporters would do well to interrogate these wider issues that may well be beyond their learning capacity.
We shouldn’t allow academic freedom to be increasingly threatened by a stifling culture of conformity that is restricting individual academics, the freedom of academic thought and the progress of knowledge – the very foundations upon which academia and universities are built. Scholars need academic freedom to critique existing knowledge and to pursue new truths.
Today, while fondness for the rhetoric of academic freedom remains, it is increasingly being called into question by identity politics.
We shouldn’t allow political expediency to change the purpose of the university and the nature of knowledge.
We need to confront and challenge to this culture of conformity and censorship and defend academic free speech for critique to be possible and for the intellectual project of evaluating existing knowledge and proposing new knowledge to be meaningful.
This short reflection is a challenge and a passionate call to arms for the power of academic thought today.
Garden Compound, Lusaka