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A lived experience in Wollo University, Ethiopia: Academic Freedom in Public Universities

by Yidnekachew Ewnetu

Wollo University, Ethiopia

The legislation of Wollo University states that freedom to teach and freedom to learn without interference is the basic right given to academic staffs and students. The importance of academic freedom is perceived in relation to the functions of universities. The three major functions of the university, as mentioned in its legislation are training skilled labor force, conducting researches and providing community services. (Wollo University, 2011) To fulfill these diverse educational and social functions, universities need to have a commitment to the spirit of truth and possess academic freedom.

Academic freedom seems a simple concept, and in essence it is, but it is also difficult to define. From medieval times, academic freedom has meant the freedom of the professor to teach without external control in his or her area of expertise, and it has implied the freedom of the student to learn. The pursuit of truth in universities requires adherence to fundamental principles of intellectual integrity and responsibility (Downs, 2009). Like other accepted freedoms, academic freedom requires individuals, authorities and government not only to allow scholar work without restraint but also prevent any interference with this freedom. In addition, academic freedom seems to require something more, that the society provides conditions in which new ideas can be generated, nurtured and freely exchanged.

Academic freedom is not only for individuals, instead it is important to look for the freedom of Universities as an institution. Institutional academic freedom protects universities from interference by government, a right that applies to the community of scholars, not to individual faculty. It also reserves to the university itself selection of faculty and students, as well as issues in curriculum such as the content of the syllabus in each class or level. (Rostan, 2010)

Many would argue that a fully developed higher education system cannot exist without academic freedom. However, the truth is academic freedom is by no means secure worldwide. And yet, surprisingly, academic freedom is not high on the international agenda. The topic is seldom discussed at academic conferences, and does not appear on the declarations and working papers of agencies such as UNESCO or the World Bank (Burgan 1999, pp. 45–47). Those who are responsible for leading and funding higher education are far too concerned with finance and management issues. More attention needs to be given to the mission and values of the university, for without academic freedom; universities cannot achieve their potential nor fully contribute to the emerging knowledge-based society.

This paper seeks to explore the challenges of academic freedom and the consequences of its absence. It is meant to open discussion among academes. The paper is written based on a lived experience from an Ethiopian public university, Wollo. The writer has worked in the university as a lecturer and academic unit head for more than four years. Read More…

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