In Solidarity with Danish Researchers
Please read and consider signing this open letter by Danish gender research colleagues regarding attacks on gender and migration research in Denmark and academic freedom.
Academic freedom in Denmark – Open Letter, 2 June 2021
On 1 June, the Danish Parliament adopted a position on ‘Excessive activism in certain research environments’. The position was adopted with a majority of 72 to 24 with all the major parties in favour, the governing Social Democratic Party voting along with the conservative-liberal Venstre party, and parties of the right wing.
The position states that “The Danish Parliament expects that the university leadership continuously ensures that the self-regulation of scientific practice is working. This means that there should be no standardization of research in order to produce politics disguised as science and that it is not possible to systematically avoid legitimate academic critique.” The position agreed upon in the Danish parliament states that it takes these measures in order to safeguard diversity. However, it is motivated by, and risks resulting in, the exact opposite.
This position represents the culmination of an intensive lobbying process and political campaign against targeted research environments by a number of politicians and public figures across the political spectrum. This campaign has specifically targeted critical research and teaching, especially in race-, gender-, migration-, and post-colonial studies, areas subjected to attacks. In recent years, politicians have also lashed out against academics working on a much wider range of issues such as climate, biodiversity, immigration, agriculture and inequality, and spanning the entire range of the humanities and the social, technical and natural sciences.
Similar attacks on academic freedom have taken place in several other European countries over the last year. In a ranking of freedom of research within the European Union, Denmark is already at the bottom (24th out of 28 EU countries in 2017). Academic freedom is under increasing attack. In the political campaigns against specific research communities, individual researchers have been exposed and shamed in public debates. In some cases they have been attacked personally by e-mail, phone or social media.
These developments are highly troubling. The parliamentary position can be used to advance further attacks and limitations of academic freedom. This could result in more researchers, particularly those in precarious positions, withdrawing from public debate, effectively leading to self-censorship. Researchers might be deterred from doing research in fields that are under significant political scrutiny. This is detrimental both to democracy and to the advancement of knowledge.
As academic researchers and teachers, we welcome critique, including from elected politicians and public figures from across the political spectrum. Critique is the driving force of the academic community. This is ensured through mechanisms such as external and international peer-review processes; far-reaching accreditation processes; bibliometric analysis and monitoring of publications; employer panels; external examiner panels; quality boards; study boards; external expert panel evaluations in research and education; and not least through extensive and transparent students and peer-evaluations. The quality of both research and teaching is therefore secured and guaranteed at our publicly funded universities in Denmark. Politicians would do well to trust this system. The alternative is – in effect – political censorship of academic freedom.
The new parliamentary position, and similar attacks on academic freedom, also jeopardise Denmark’s ability to recruit high-level international researchers and students, to develop cooperation with international partners, and the chances of attracting external and international research grants (including from the EU). Academic and intellectual innovation is stifled when researchers are told to stay in line. At a time when universities worldwide are embracing diversity, plurality and democratic forms of knowledge production as key sources of solutions to today’s complex societal challenges, promoting calls to constrain academic freedom is unwise. If we want world-class international research conducted at Danish universities, this political statement moves us further away from this goal.
The Danish Parliament and especially the Social Democratic government is setting a precedent endangering the freedom of academic research. As researchers, we strongly signal our resistance to such positioning, for the future not only of our universities, but of our society. We therefore call on
– the Danish Social Democratic Party as governing minority party to reconsider this position
– the university leadership to continue to support academic staff and stand against these developments
– researchers and university employees to stand together against this threat against academic freedom, and to support individual researchers and research communities that are exposed to attacks
– institutions of collective representation, such as trade unions and learned associations to speak up against political misrepresentations of and attacks against academic workers
– the Danish and international (research) community to defend the integrity of academic knowledge production and its procedures of ensuring quality and room for critical and diverse thinking.
We invite anyone currently employed in a university or research institution, in Denmark or elsewhere to sign the document. With your signature, you confirm that you are in principle in support of this statement.
Your signature will be added to the full text of the open letter with the list of signatures attached, available at this link https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OmIC86fl0B263zCglgTlgptR0hjfchyZabGS08liqOQ/edit?usp=sharing. The list of signatures will be updated continuously.