ASEEES Protest against Suppression of Academic Freedom by Polish Minister of Education
Published November 4, 2020
The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies has been following with dismay the recent events in Poland. On October 22, the country’s constitutional tribunal declared nearly all abortions illegal, leading to massive protests that continue to this day. Without taking a stance on the merits of this specific policy debate, we are outraged by the government’s response to the demonstrations, particularly as they regard fundamental principles of academic freedom. Because these protests have been largely driven by young people, university students have been heavily involved. On October 28, a number of Polish universities decided to cancel classes in order to allow students to make their own choices about whether or how to participate. The Minister of Education, Przemysław Czarnek, responded by openly threatening university administrators, not only violating their institutional autonomy but profoundly undermining the ideals of academic freedom. As Minister Czarnek put it, “Classes were cancelled yesterday in many Polish universities. This is a scandalous decision!...Please do not forget that as Minister of Education, I have the authority to distribute funding for grants, and I do not have the slightest doubt that we will take into account what has been happening at these educational institutions.” To threaten reprisals for expressions of political dissent is a most serious violation of academic freedom, and intellectual freedom more generally. If scholars and university administrators must show loyalty to political authorities in matters of public debate, then academic work as such becomes impossible. There is simply no place for the suppression of university autonomy in order to stifle political debate or engagement, or to make funding dependent upon obedience and subservience. We call upon Minister Czarnek to retract his declaration in unambiguous terms, and for Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to confirm that his government will honor academic freedom without equivocation.
Approved by the ASEEES Executive Committee