Of intellectual freedom

In a democracy, free and frank discussions should be encouraged rather than restrict it. There is no guarantee that all government policy or programme are sacrosanct or failsafe and without loopholes.

Once upon a time, it was extremely rare for academics to venture out of the classroom. While they immersed themselves in teaching and research, they seldom find the time to engage with the general public or policy makers, and when they do, they sometimes fail to translate their research into language that is accessible to audiences that lack familiarity with disciplinary discourses. Those days are gone now. With the advent of live talk shows and panel discussions in the local cable channels, academics are coming out or rather dragged out of their cocoon and seen actively participating in social and policy discourses. It is a good sign for the society. Academics like it when people refer to them as intellectuals. However, not all academics are intellectuals. An intellectual is an intelligent, learned person, especially one who discourses about learned matters. Be it academic or intellectual, it is important for everyone participating in public forum or discussions to be intellectually honest in expressing their opinions.

While free and frank opinions should be welcomed, any opinion without intellectual honesty, could be deemed as having vested political interests. Having said that, we would like to draw attention to the recent outrage in the academic community in the wake of a government memorandum which restricts government college teachers and other staff working under the higher education department from making public comments in the media on government policy and programmes.

The memorandum said, some government college teachers have been writing or expressing their views on government policies and programmes in the media which is likely to promote defiance of authority or which amounts to adverse criticism of the government policies and programmes. As such, government college teachers and other staff working under the directorate of university and higher education should take due approval before publishing or making statements regarding any government policy or programme in the media.

Referring to Section 9 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, the notification said that no government servant should make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the central or a state government. It also warned that appropriate disciplinary action may be initiated against the teachers if they fail to do so.

This is simply ridiculous and ill-advised. In a democracy, free and frank discussions should be encouraged rather than restrict it. There is no guarantee that all government policy or programme are sacrosanct or failsafe and without loopholes. More importantly, the academics are the best people to comment on any policy relating to education, as their life is intertwined with it.

In the Code of Professional Ethics as laid down in the guidelines of UGC, teachers are encouraged to work towards improving education in the community and strengthening the community’s moral and intellectual life. So rather than cowed down by the government memo, academics should seize the moment to assert higher education’s primary role in the democratic work of the country and collaborate with the public to address society’s core challenges.

First Published:Aug. 14, 2020, 7:24 a.m.