A question in the Swedish parliament

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An MP for Moderaterna, Maria Abrahamsson, is talking about me in parliament. Well, not about me really, but about academic freedom at Swedish universities in general, and at Lund U in particular. She tells the story here.

When confronted, the minister responsible said exactly what representatives of my department said in the press: “the quality of a text is more important than the gender of the author,” and “it is all a misunderstanding.” Yet after the debate, Maria Abrahamsson was still puzzled: but Erik’s course was interfered with; he was told what to teach.

That’s right Maria, it was not a misunderstanding, and I have the documents to prove it. Too bad for my department and too bad for the minister concerned.

This is how the system actually works: the board of the Department of Political Science adopts a reading list which has up to 40% female authors on it, including some lefty feminists which the student activists on the board want included. Then the Director of Studies gets back to the teachers concerned with comments to the effect that “you don’t really have to worry about any of that, just teach the course the way you always did.” I understand the position of the Director of Studies: in this way we can continue to offer high quality courses while pretending to listen to the Student Union (a.k.a “students’ rights”). Of course it was hypocritical, but that was sort of the point.

I went along with this fudge until a few students started sabotaging my teaching with demands that I follow the official reading list. They wanted to put an end to the hypocrisy. Since I insisted on my right to teach as I like (a.k.a. “academic freedom”) there was a clash. The department sided with the students in relation to me, but when Swedish media started writing about it all they insisted that “quality is more important than the gender of the author.” That is, they engaged in the same old double-talk.

The student activists have a valid point: the two demands are indeed incompatible. You cannot at the same time defend the “rights of students” as they are interpreted here in Lund and academic freedom as interpreted by Unesco. The only way forward is to side with academic freedom. Anything else results in political control and “revolutionary classrooms.” The consequences for Swedish universities would be dire.

It is wonderful that Maria Abrahamsson brings this up in parliament. The issue needs a political solution. The quality of Swedish universities is at stake.

3 Comments

  1. Elegant, as always. I wish this blog reached more people out there, because this is a necessary read. As you say, academic freedom is at stake, and that is extremely problematic (to say the least). Knowledge should always triumph over ideological dogmas.

    1. Hi André, thanks. This blog has around 500 hits a day, and once there has been a story in the press it can have around 3,000. It’s not that much of course, but I guess the readership includes all the people who take an interest in this issue. Thanks to readers like you, it still has an impact.

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