Manifesto

The Network for Academic Freedom is an association of academics with the common concern to defend the freedom of research and teaching against ideologically motivated restrictions and to contribute to strengthening a liberal academic climate.

We observe that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of research and teaching is increasingly being placed under moral and political reservation. We must increasingly take note of attempts to set non-scientific limits to the freedom of research and teaching even before the limits of the applicable law. Individuals claim, against the background of their world view and their political goals, to be able to determine which questions, topics and arguments are objectionable. This is an attempt to standardise research and teaching ideologically and to instrumentalise them politically. Those who do not play along must expect to be discredited. In this way, a pressure to conform is created that increasingly leads to scientific debates being nipped in the bud.

University members are subjected to considerable pressure to submit to moral, political and ideological restrictions and guidelines when exercising their freedom of research and teaching: Both university members and external activists scandalise the invitation of unpopular guest speakers in order to put pressure on the inviting colleagues and the management levels. In addition, attempts are made to prevent research projects that do not conform to ideological ideas and to prevent the publication of correspondingly unpopular results. Of particular importance are the indirect effects of these pressure measures: They send the signal that one had better refrain from the ‘controversial’ use of one’s freedom of research and teaching in future. The labelling as “controversial” represents the first step of exclusion.

In this way, we observe the emergence of an environment that leads to university members limiting their own freedom of research and teaching because they anticipate being discredited as a person through statements, topics or events. Such preventive restrictions occur primarily when those affected have experienced that no one will stand by those targeted by ideological activism because of the risk of becoming a target themselves.

When members of the scientific community avoid research questions or evade debates for fear of the social and professional costs, the preconditions of free science erode. Such a development has a negative impact on the performance of universities and thus on Germany as a science location and its international reputation.

Objectives

The main intention of the network is to defend and strengthen the conditions for liberal research and teaching at universities. To this end, the network will

      • counteract all attempts to restrict the academic work of university members. The only limits to this freedom are the constitution and the law;
      • actively advocate that intellectual freedom and scientific pluralism in research questions, research approaches and research methods are taken for granted and that argumentative debate with other approaches and perspectives takes place, even and especially if they are not shared in terms of content;
      • advocate for a culture of debate in which all scholars and students can pursue their epistemological interests free of concerns about moral discredit, social exclusion or professional disadvantage and can contribute their arguments to debates. We insist that debates are characterised by mutual respect and that ad hominem arguments are avoided.

Activities

The network highlights the importance of freedom of research and teaching through public events, analyses threats to academic freedom in practice, exposes cases of its restriction and develops counter-strategies.

Furthermore, the network organises debate formats that bring together as many perspectives as possible on different topics, which are exchanged in an open intellectual climate.

Finally, the network supports colleagues and all those who face attacks on their academic freedom.

Februar 2021