Jón Torfi Jónasson: Universities and Critical Social Discourse
The discussion centres on the role of academics in the social discourse outside the arena of their institutions. First it is argued that universities carry social responsibility, which requires that they participate in the development of their societies, inter alia to engage in and even initiate various substantive debates. Thus the various specialists must engage themselves. Further it is explained that their specialist standing within the university, characterised by their knowledge and independence, gives them a rather unique responsibility to take part, as many of their specialised colleagues in the public or private spheres may not be given the opportunity to express their views or concerns. But even though the scientific discourse is assumed to be neutral and in some sense value free, this does not apply to the individual academics, who are human beings characterised by ideals, views, and a variety of short and long term interests. Some of these interests may substantially influence their discourse, but this assertion does not imply any dishonesty or corruption. These interests may range from the love of their field, through support for projects they have advised on, or that may strengthen their field, to policies that may enhance their chances of obtaining research funds. Thus the argument for the participation of academics in the public debate does not presuppose their neutral stance. But their input should be very important and the conclusion suggests that a move from the notion of freedom of expression of academics about their specialist field to an obligation to participate and even to be critical might be considered. This might then be extended to the university as an institution.
Keywords: Role of academics in social discourse, social responsibility, the university as an institution, academic freedom, interests.