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Universities must not suppress dissenting students, teachers: Hamid Ansari

He said university, in discharge of its duties, has the responsibility of speaking out without the fear of intimidation; and to give offence, even at the cost of inviting protests.

Published: 26th March 2017 12:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2017 12:07 AM   |  A+A-

Hamid Ansari (File | PTI)

By Express News Service

CHANDIGARH: Universities should take legal action necessary to defend their academic integrity and freedom, said Vice President M Hamid Ansari here on Saturday.

Delivering the 66th convocation address at the Panjab University the Ansari said, "Intellectual dissent has the power to clarify differences and elucidate competing assumptions. It enables each of us to recognise the strengths and weaknesses in our thinking. Strong intellectual work can only be done in an atmosphere where scholars feel free to take risks, challenge conventions, and change their minds.

A university must foster an environment that prizes intellectual freedom. Except in cases of illegal conduct or violence, a university should never seek to silence or influence faculty members or students to adopt or renounce any particular position. Indeed, universities should take all legal action necessary to defend their academic integrity and freedom."

"Academic freedom is the foundation of the University's mission to discover, improve, and disseminate knowledge. This is to be done by examining different ideas in an environment that encourages free and scrupulous debate. The ideas, no matter how uncomfortable or disturbing to the accepted status quo, can and must be challenged, modified and even discarded- on their merit, but may never be muted or suppressed," he said.

In his address, he further stated that the university, in discharge of its duties, has the responsibility of speaking out without the fear of intimidation; and to give offence, even at the cost of inviting protests. Not doing so would be to deviate from the path of rational enquiry and undermine our curiosity about the world by embracing ill-defined orthodoxies, which would impoverish our pursuit of knowledge.

He said, "University here, academic freedom requires a robust tolerance for disagreement and criticism, a willingness to have one's assumptions questioned, and openness to new ideas that may prove offensive. This tolerance always has the potential to conflict with other virtues and causes, so it needs to be defended repeatedly and vigilantly."

"We need to revisit these commitments today because we are again in a climate that questions the value and scope of academic freedom. Recent events in our own country have shown that there is much confusion about what a university should or should not be. The freedom of our universities has been challenged by narrow considerations of what is perceived to be public good," he said

Ansari said,"In a period of rampant distrust of matters intellectual there is an imperative need to defend the universities as free spaces, as independent, critical repositories of knowledge, and as sources of renewal of liberal values that provide avenues of social mobility and equality to people. We need to remind ourselves of the democratic aspirations of pragmatic liberal education while recalling that our finest universities help fulfill the dreams of our best selves as a people."

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