Tuesday, 15 October 2019

University Freedoms and Responsibilities: Responding to the Challenges of the Future

I have just arrived in Hamilton, Canada, after 28 hours of flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg, to Addis Ababa, to Dublin and to Toronto, Canada. This is crazy.

Image result for oranges, bananas, granadillasFortunately, I have planted this year already two orange trees, two banana trees, 4 blueberry bushes, one jasmin climber, one granadilla climber and two christophene climbers, and turned a backyard that was entirely concreted up for at least two decades into a garden that produces peas, radish, creeping beans, spinach, cucumber, butter nut pumpkin, strawberries, spring onion, thyme, rosemary, garlic and rocket salad... otherwise I would probably succumb to climate guilt.

And fortunately this travel is for a really important matter: the freedoms, rights and responsibilities, of universities. The Magna Charta Observatory, the University of Bologna and the McMaster University are hosting a conference at McMaster in Hamilton, Canada, and a Ceremony for the Signing of the Magna Charta by universities committed to the principles of the Universitatum.
The conference itself addresses a very important matter dealing with the question of inequality (in society) and how it manifests in the academy. In South Africa, this question is omnipresent in discussions and policy about institutional culture, the legacy of apartheid, staff and student demographics, etc. The conference asks the question in terms of academic freedom: "Is the academy equally free for all its members, and if not, what is the enduring educational value of academic freedom?"

I have been invited to lead a workshop on Wednesday, 16 October, on "The role of representative student associations, current challenges and strategies in response". The workshop seeks to explore, and share experiences of, the challenges that representative student associations (such as student unions, student guilds, and student representative councils) experience to their role and how they respond to such challenges. We will explore questions related to:
  1. the different roles of representative student associations, 
  2. the effectiveness of student interest representation in formal decision-making structures and processes, 
  3. informal interactions with university authorities and stakeholders, and 
  4. the experience, effectiveness and impact of student protest action. 
We will consider these topics in relation to (a) the question of students’ rights and responsibilities in the context of the rights and responsibilities of other academic stakeholders and the public; and (b) the diversity of institutional and national student bodies and thus the challenge of aggregating ‘the’ student voice.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, textAnd fortunately also, this is not the only thing I took this very long trip for. Indeed, despite the importance (and honour) of participating in this conference and facilitating this workshop, I would not have made this very long trip just for one thing. So I was able to add another thing, which is also exciting.

I will be giving a seminar in the Boston College Centre for International Higher Education (CIHE) on Thursday and spend the rest of the day catching up with the wonderful Dr Rebecca Schendel, with the head of CIHE, Prof Hans de Wit and his colleagues, and with Dr Manja Klemencic who I will go to visit briefly at Harvard and attend a seminar with her there.