“Resisting Multiple Pressures – Perspectives on Academic Freedom in Europe” – Side Note on the re:constitution Seminar

By László Detre

László Detre. Photo: Joanna Scheffel.

re:constitution is a joint program of the Forum Transregionale Studien and Democracy Reporting International, funded by the Stiftung Mercator. re:constitution awards fellowships, inspires and organizes topical seminars, and offers fact-based analysis on and around the rule of law and democracy in the European Union. The re:constitution Seminars were launched in 2019 to discuss core constitutional issues that are of common concern within the EU. Under this overarching framework, re:constitution collaborated with Professor Matej Avbelj (also a member of the re:constitution Collegium) and the New University (Nova Univerza) to hold a Seminar on “Resisting multiple pressures – Perspectives on Academic Freedom in Europe” on November 11-12, 2021, in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The idea that triggered this event was to bring together experts to exchange views about and experiences with the threats to academic freedom in Europe and to explore possible strategies to cope with them.

There is no doubt that safeguarding academic freedom is one of these core constitutional issues of European concern. Several reasons can be recalled why it is so. Essential substantial and institutional requirements have been carved out from the jurisprudence of the European courts. To begin with, the European Court of Human Rights, referring to a recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, underlined that “academic freedom in research and in training should guarantee freedom of expression and of action, freedom to disseminate information and freedom to conduct research and distribute knowledge and truth without restriction”. Thus, conduct related to the work of academics is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union, also referring to the aforementioned recommendation and to other sources, added that academic freedom shall be understood more broadly and “it is apparent that academic freedom also incorporates an institutional and organisational dimension, a link to an organisational structure being an essential prerequisite for teaching and research activities”. That is to say, academics must be able to express their thoughts freely, safeguarded by autonomous institutions.

The re:constitution Seminar participants. Photo: private

However, this is not only about researching, teaching, and distributing knowledge. One may easily conclude that guaranteeing academic freedom touches upon one of our most basic values in Europe: the plurality of views, fact-based debates, and as such, our democratic society. Certain political stances challenge these and mostly as a part of their general agenda: minimizing the possibility to encounter critical voices. However, there is something genuinely wrong if public authorities turn against academics and restrict their personal and institutional freedom. Unfortunately, these are not only theoretical problems, but such tendencies can be witnessed in some European countries. Never before in the history of the EU did a university (Central European University) have no other choice but to leave a member state (Hungary) due to the political environment and the measures implemented against it. This not only contradicts economic considerations such as the freedom of establishment, but also basic European values. Having said that, besides the sad examples of direct and indirect pressure on academic freedom, academics may face other challenges, such as access to materials or funding and how to place themselves in 21st-century society.

These considerations inspired the organization of the re:constitution Seminar on academic freedom. Under the overarching thoughts, participants from various European countries exchanged views in three distinctive panel discussions: a) Academic Freedom under Pressure: Case Studies from Hungary, Slovenia, and Turkey; b) Academic Freedom in a Broader Context – Funding, Digitalization, Globalization Dynamics, and Shifting Socio-Political Roles of Academics in Europe, and c) Developing Solutions and Creating Opportunities to Protect Academic Freedom in Europe. The lively discussions proved that the mentioned aspects of the subject matter are of European concern, requiring more attention from the national and European institutions, as well as from the public. Besides the report by Áine Fellenz on the event, the Seminar participants’ entries on the TRAFO Blog may provide readers with insight into the discussions of this re:constitution event.


László Detre is the Academic Advisor of the re:constitution program at the Forum Transregionale Studien.



Further articles in the Academic Freedom series on TRAFO:

Pascal Engel, Academic Freedom is the Freedom to Know, 24 February 2021

Gisèle Sapiro, Amr Hamzawy, and Başak Tuğ, Threats to Academic Freedom – Historical and Contemporary Remarks, 17 February 2021

Mitchell G. Ash, The Suppression and Misuses of Academic Freedom During the Nazi Regime, 3 March 2021

Sandra Richter, What Kind of Academic Freedom and for Whom? Karl Jaspers’ Idea of the University, 10 March 2021

Libora Oates-Indruchová, Academic Presses in Czechoslovakia and Hungary under Communist Regimes, 24 March 2021

Balázs Trencsényi, Notes from the Underground: Academic Freedom, (Un)Civil Society, and Kulturkampf in Hungary, 1 April 2021

Amr Hamzawy, The Long-lived “July Republic” and the Abolition of the Egyptian University’s Autonomy, 07 April 2021

Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (I), 14 April 2021

Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (II), 21 April 2021

Sari Hanafi, The Pen and the Sword: The Narrow Margin of Academic Freedom in the Arab World, 05 May 2021

Noémi Lévy-Aksu, Alternative Knowledge Production and Transmission in Turkey: Solidarity Academies (III), 19 May 2021

David Armitage, Threats to Academic Freedom — A Comment, 26 May 2021

Alihan Mestci, On the Margins of the University: Academics in the Face of Power in post-2016 Turkey, 18 January 2022


Citation: László Detre, “Resisting Multiple Pressures – Perspectives on Academic Freedom in Europe” – Side Note on the re:constitution Seminar, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 14.04.2022, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/35744


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