BM86: The student movement against anti democratic groups

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Higher education is a key stage in the development of young people into responsible, active, critical and supportive citizens. It must, in fact, be a pillar for the good of our democracies. Through its formative role, it shapes our modern societies and enables them to function democratically, in its institutions, its laws and its very system. It is this education that must teach our young people about dialogue, democracy and listening to minorities. It conveys the values of our democratic societies, which are opposed to hatred and discrimination.

 Higher education has a duty to fulfill these functions, and must be protected from ideologies and groups that attack and endanger its role as a pillar of democracy. It goes without saying that this means protecting academic freedom and the autonomy of institutions, so that they can offer the best quality of learning, teaching and research. Without these academic and institutional freedoms, the future of our democracies is at risk, just as when the media and civil society organisations see their freedom threatened and curtailed.

 If freedom of expression is to be protected, and if campuses are to be places for discussion, exchange and debate in society, then anti-democratic and repressive discourse must be combated, and campuses must put in place mechanisms to prevent it, protecting their populations from discrimination or defamation.

 The frequency of violations of academic and institutional freedoms is on the increase, and this constitutes an attack on the roots of our democracies. In addition to ideological groups, these freedoms are also threatened by financial interests. When education opens its doors, in any way, to private investors, the latter’s economic interests may be a threat to the freedoms we are defending here. The strengthening of authoritarian figures and anti-democratic discourses in Europe is having a particular impact on the higher education sector. What we have been observing is that those forces do not openly and bluntly attack research and education, as has been the case in the past. Instead, they pursue a strategy of remaking the higher education process in the image of their ideology through a creeping and protracted process. An essential part of that strategy is to hijack constitutional vocabulary in order to transform the higher education sector through reinterpretation of existing norms, as well as reforms. In formal adherence with existing laws and norms, it was and is pretended that these processes are of a democratic nature. Therefore, the consequences of this strategy are only now becoming visible to the general public, although the starting points of those processes can often be traced back to the early 2000s.

More specifcally, we note that : 

 – In several European countries, higher education reforms have been carried out or are being developed with the aim of weakening student and staff participation and hence the democratic governance of higher education; 

 – Institutions are being (partially) privatised or transferred to foundations, which often lead to the weakening of the institutional autonomy and self-determination of the academic community; 

 – Funding for social science research and study programmes – covering in particular issues such as critical race theory and gender – is reduced and, in some cases, such research and study programmes are even banned; 

 – On the pretext of defending freedom of expression, laws are being drafted to restrict the rights of academics to speak about undesirable subjects; – The misuse of the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom to disseminate uncritical unrefected and hateful misinformation; 

 – Undesirable academics are dismissed or their contracts are not renewed; – Students and academics are driven to self-censorship and, in some countries, are even politically persecuted. 

 We therefore call on the student movement to campaign for higher education that is inclusive, egalitarian equitable and safeguards, through strict measures, against ideologies that endanger the freedoms of its population, democratic freedoms and academic freedoms. 

 This involves: 

 – Protecting and strengthening academic freedom in Europe; 

 – That all HEIs shall be based on values of freedom and democracy, and should promote values such as equality, anti-authoritarianism and respect. 

 – That HEIs do not grant funding to organisations, groups or events that do not comply with constitutional and democratic values. 

 – That HEIs adopt a teaching method that stimulates the development of a critical conscience, the formation of students as citizens and a deep involvement of the student community in the process and culture of democracy; 

 – That HEIs refrain from any action that might contribute to — or legitimise — the dissemination of false or misleading information, including false claims of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, or the willful misrepresentation of the results of their own or others’ research; 

 – That HEIs educate members of the academic community about the importance of academic freedom and institutional autonomy and the crucial role of higher education for democracy; 

 – That financing HEIs is primarily a public responsibility, and that all HEIs should have institutional freedom independently of their sources of income; – That these academic and institutional freedoms be taken into account when drawing up regulations and public policies.


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