Thursday, March 03, 2016

The University Must Be a Center for Critical Thought
Argentine political scientist Atilio Borón reflected on inclusive development and the innovative role of the university in Havana

Yenia Silva Correa |
February 25, 2016 09:02:47

When Albert Einstein elaborated his theory of relativity, he was not at a university. He was an official at the patent office in Geneva. What would have happened if the German scientific genius had had to contend with the conservative thinking of the academic institutions of the time?

“If he had been at university, surely they would not have accepted his publication,” assured Argentine political scientist and sociologist Atilio Borón, “because he was too bold, too rash; he radically questioned all physics of his time.”

There have been many examples in which a body meant to generate knowledge has refused to accept the ideas of those who dare to challenge it with critiques contrary to conventional thinking.

“At Oxford they set fire to all the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican thinker of the 14th century. In the early 17th century they burned the writings of Thomas Hobbes, the great English philosopher, because he dared to question the divine right of the monarchy,” Borón continued.

The examples provided by the renowned Argentine researcher may appear remote, but they are practices which, in more subtle ways, continue today, with the persistent barriers as to what is accepted or not within academia, a reality that can not be ignored and that has repercussions on the social sphere, too.

There have been many efforts by conservative governments to make universities into a commodity governed by the laws of the market, what Atilio Borón defines as “neoliberal harrassment.”

There is also a lack of transparency regarding the sources of financing for certain research undertaken in universities, with results that can end up harming people and even worse, experimenting on them.

As such universities today are in danger of becoming an instrument to benefit multinationals and mega-corporations, while the masses are carried along in a tide of conformity, consumerism, inequality, injustice, poverty and violence.

Nor is it news to see how in different parts of the world, public universities – “very threatened by this financial asphyxiation that throws them into the arms of large corporations” – are being displaced by the private sector, which invariably and increasingly rapidly translates to “the end of public education, public health, pensions, the privatization of all social rights.”

As well as knowledge – in order to enter the labor market and understand the complexities of today’s world – the university is called on to “promote the advancement of peace.” In a context of permanent war across the world, this idea is very clear. But the university also has an obligation to continue to defy established thinking in order to truly be innovative.

“We must encourage those who think differently in universities, those who dare to think critically and are willing to challenge dominant ideas,” Altilio Borón emphasized, adding “The university must be this center of critical thought. It’s not easy. We must ensure it is a center for tolerance of the ideas being discussed, of dialogue, of debate.”

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