Progress SA notes the decision by UCT Senate to endorse the proposed academic boycott of Israeli institutions by the University.
On March 15, a recommendation from UCT’s Academic Freedom Committee (AFC) was adopted by UCT Senate to prohibit the University from engaging with Israeli academic institutions. This measure attempts to link institutional academic engagements to human rights-related factors that singularly focus on Israel’s alleged actions, and no other country or territory in the world.
Progress SA is not surprised by the AFC’s tactical and careful wording of this recommendation, which follows its obsession to push through this boycott measure over a year of its having meetings and deliberations on this issue, above all other pressing matters of academic freedom at UCT. The rewording, however, does not mitigate the fact that the proposed measure is a serious threat to academic freedom at UCT.
In a campaign last month, Progress SA highlighted the fundamental importance of academic freedom to the very existence of the University. In response to our questioning University management’s attitudes to academic freedom, the Vice-Chancellor affirmed that UCT is committed to ‘open debate and academic freedom’. We therefore find it strange that the Vice-Chancellor and her deputies presided over the meeting of Senate that approved this proposal, without so much as registering a single reservation that it would harm the freedom of academics and students to associate with whomever they choose.
Any limitation of academic freedom will severely damage UCT’s reputation as a bastion of academic inquiry. It comes at the expense of ordinary students and staff wishing to pursue their academic activities freely. This, of course, was expected due to UCT’s ever-increasing hostility towards both academic and intellectual freedom across its various disciplines.
The AFC has one simple task, and that is to safeguard and defend academic freedom at all costs. It is ironic and patently clear that a committee reserved for just that is not fit enough to carry out its mandate, and bizarrely recommends the limitation of academic freedom.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex issue, and Progress SA does not purport to offer any solutions to it, or to take any specific position on it at this stage. Solving world conflicts, is not, however, the primary and indispensable function of a university. The primary and indispensable function of a university is to provide a space for free thought and rational enquiry, where learning and teaching can flourish unabated. The fact that the AFC would deny UCT its ability to perform this function is a travesty.
We therefore urge members of UCT Council to do the most rational thing and reject this proposal as nothing more than an attempt to hijack the University’s power for the interests of a narrow ideological faction.
Progress SA will remain unwavering in its mission to ensure freedom-loving students and citizens at large are not suppressed by the ever-increasing culture of antagonism toward liberal values in every sphere of our society.
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