Polish Students Defend Academic Freedom

We are increasingly seeing conservative nationalist governments limiting academic freedom and universities’ institutional autonomy. At this blog, we’ve discussed cases of this type in the U.S., the U.K., Turkey (see also this post), and Hungary.

Now, it’s Poland.

Poland’s right-wing, nationalist Law and Justice Party government recently tabled “Bill 2.0” or “Constitution For Education,” a sweeping bill that, among other things:

  • turns small, regional universities into teaching institutions by stripping them of their research budgets and their right to award PhDs;
  • places universities under the governance of councils composed of external representatives, rather than collegial governance bodies composed mainly of faculty and students;
  • lowers the mandatory retirement age for women professors (and only women professors) to 60.

The third point is just garden variety sexism (in a delicious cocktail with ageism). But the first two changes would be devastating blows to institutional autonomy and collegial governance — and hence to academic freedom, which as I have often discussed here, is entwined with both of those values.

Amazingly, students around the country rallied and vigourously protested Bill 2.0. As a result of the student protests, the government postponed the vote on Bill 2.0 until July and have promised to come back with a revised version of the bill.

Hooray for engaged Polish students! But it remains to be seen what the revised bill will contain. And, whatever happens in Poland, the global trend of governments impeding academic freedom and the core values of universities is a most worrisome one.

The monumental white stone and black wrought iron main gates of a university, as seen from below.
University of Warsaw. By Jorge Láscar.