Top-NaviScience in research plays an outstanding role in solving the central problems of our society. The world of academia is necessarily discursive and thrives on the diversity of people and positions. The PLUS is committed to its role in democratic society, to guarantee and promote diversity, to fight for human rights and against discrimination.
Within the university environment it is not always easy to find the right balance between discursive openness, allowing talk on controversial issues and rejecting discriminatory or anti-democratic positions. Dialogue builds the foundations for successful balance and negotiation.
Recent media coverage has discussed the suspension of a seminar planned for the summer semester at the Department of Philosophy at the Faculty of Cultural and Social Sciences. The course in question deals with the topic "Ethical Interventions: Boycott Strategies - For & Against" and deals with the anti-Israeli boycott movement BDS. On 1 March, we (the Rectorate, the Dean and the Head of Department) received a formal complaint from the Jewish Austrian Students’ Association and the chairing team of the Austrian Students’ Union at our university. In the letter, the authors expressed their objection to subject matter and the course leader’s known political stance, subsequently demanding that the seminar be cancelled. The course leader was informed on 4 March about these objections. The university management, the Dean and the Head of Department initiated a discussion process, which included a meeting with the representatives of the Jewish Austrian Students’ Association and the chairing team of the Austrian Students’ Union on 17 March. Following this discussion, we concluded that, in view of the complexity of the problem, it would be advisable to suspend the course.
When discussing the course, it seemed to us that no one could guarantee a smooth running of the seminar. We also wanted to allow for an internal university discussion of the problem, which goes far beyond the content of the individual course, and to open it up to colleagues and students beyond the Rectorate, the Dean and the Department of Philosophy. In this context, we are planning a course on "The Limits of Academic Freedom of Speech at a University" for the winter semester, in which this extremely important topic can be discussed not only from the philosophical side, but in interdisciplinary and other broader methods. The course leader in question, the above-mentioned students, colleagues from other departments, philosophy students and, if necessary, external experts are to be invited.
It was our intention to organise the matter and the associated discussion process within the university. Unfortunately, however, it has now been taken to the media at an early stage. We hope that the process outlined above can nevertheless be implemented for all concerned.
The freedom of academic teaching is not negotiable, but the relationship between freedom and responsibility in the academic discourse of an open society must be discussed again and again. And we need time for that.
Hendrik Lehnert, Rector
Martin Weichbold, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs
Martin Knoll, Dean at the Faculty of Cultural and Social Sciences
Alexander Hieke, Head of Department for Philosophy at the Faculty of Cultural and Social Sciences