Daniël Wigboldus
Daniël Wigboldus

Multiplicity of voices - Column Daniël Wigboldus

As Radboud University, our mission is to contribute to a healthy, free world with equal opportunities for all. As an engaged university, how do we relate to a world of protracted conflicts and wars, exclusion, human rights violations, and innocent victims? This question keeps me awake at night.

As Radboud University, our mission is to contribute to a healthy, free world with equal opportunities for all. As an engaged university, how do we relate to a world of protracted conflicts and wars, exclusion, human rights violations, and innocent victims? This question keeps me awake at night.

Universities have an important societal contribution to make in facilitating academic debate, sharing knowledge, and interpreting societal developments. This can lead to a multiplicity of voices, with sometimes widely divergent views. And yet, many a social change began on a university campus with just this kind of multiplicity of voices. Clear dissenting voices sounding at universities are of all times and all continents. 

The students and staff of a university play a leading role in this. They ask difficult questions, formulate answers, take positions, and debate with each other. Sometimes, these are uncomfortable questions, answers, positions, and debates, so much so that they are perceived as undesirable by some (or even many). The explicit role of the university is to facilitate exchanges of views. The Magna Charta Universatum articulates it as follows. 

“As they create and disseminate knowledge, universities question dogmas and established doctrines and encourage critical thinking in all students and scholars. Academic freedom is their lifeblood; open enquiry and dialogue their nourishment."

The university facilitates the academic freedom required for an open dialogue by giving its students and staff space for this. It is vital that on a university campus, there is room for exchange of views, for debate, and also for clear dissenting voices. It goes without saying that this exchange focuses on content, and happens with respect for each other. And yes, that can lead to discomfort. But not allowing debate and dissent at a university will eventually lead to even greater discomfort. If you cannot disagree on a university campus, where can you disagree? However, be prepared for the fact that at a university, every opinion, every question, every insight, may, can, and will be viewed critically by others. 

Daniël Wigboldus is president of Radboud University's executive board. The other members of the board are Agnes Muskens (vice president) and José Sanders (rector magnificus). Each member of the executive board regularly writes a column. 

Does that mean that anything goes at a university? No. As Radboud University, we also clearly state that we must treat each other with respect. There is no room on our campus for undesirable behaviour such as harassment, aggression, vandalism, discrimination, or exclusion of any kind. We are very clear about that. The boundaries are partly set by law and partly embedded in our own code of conduct and regulations. Above all, they have to do with the fact that no matter how much we differ in our opinions at our university, we do so with respect for and the willingness to listen to each other. Academic freedom comes with an academic responsibility that makes this freedom possible. I would like to once again quote the Magna Charta Universatum:

"Universities are non-discriminatory spaces of tolerance and respect where diversity of perspectives flourishes and where inclusivity, anchored in principles of equity and fairness, prevails."

As Executive Board, we are very reluctant to take a position in any academic or public debate. Our job is to facilitate the debate to the best of our ability while guarding the boundaries that are a precondition for this. We insist that a diversity of insights, perspectives, and opinions can be shared and then criticised. We stand for a multiplicity of voices, even, or especially when they are not harmonious. But always with respect for each other and the world we live in. In this, we do take a clear stand. 

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