Rectors defend scientific freedom

RUG rector Elmer Sterken has joined the rectors of all Dutch research universities in issuing a statement calling for the preservation of scientific freedom. ‘Let us turn the tides while we still can.’
By Traci White

‘These developments will impact scientists and their research in the countries where these events are occurring. But they can affect all of us’, the statement reads. The rectors warn against explicit threats to the lives and careers of scientists in nations like Turkey and Iran, as well as more subtle forms of discrediting scientific research on politicized subjects such as climate change and vaccines.

The letter, which was published in NRC in Thursday, was undersigned by the rectors of every Dutch research university, including RUG rector Elmer Sterken. The collective statement describes alarming examples of repression that have been occurring with increasing regularity over the past year, ranging from an Iranian professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel being sentenced to death to mass firings of Turkish academics following an attempted coup last summer.

The travel ban against all Syrian refugees and visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia, issued by the United States, is most recent example cited by the rectors as cause for concern. ‘In recent weeks, the entire world was shocked by developments in the United States, a nation that had always been a bulwark for freedom and openness as essential ingredients for society.’

Students and staff

The declaration by the rectors calls upon the Dutch government and the EU to ‘stand firm against restrictions to scientific freedom. Let us turn the tides while we still can.’ The NRC-published letter follows similar statements by the European University Association and the Dutch university association VSNU speaking out against American President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive order. The academic entities feel that the ban impacts the scientific community in particular by standing in the way of the movement of students and research collaboration.

According to staff official for Education & Students, Jan Wolthuis, there are 140 RUG students and staff with either first or second nationality from one of the seven nations named in the ban. RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens stated that no complaints had been filed to the university about complications arising from the ban as of last week.

After a halt on the travel ban was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, President Trump indicated in a press conference on Thursday that a new, comparable decree would be signed next week.


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