Academic Freedom as a Human Right?

In Brown v. Board of Education the US Supreme Court explained that public education was instrumental for the daily operation of a constitutional democracy. For centuries the university has been understood as an environment of learning, critical thinking and debate, a site of processes without which responsible government cannot operate. Not to mention the occasional uprising that got started on university premises. Before the era of democratic backsliding we got used to taking academic freedom for granted. Then came illiberal democrats, and the university campus is no longer a sanctuary for dissenters. As with shrinking civic space, illiberal practices transform academic freedom before our eyes, while academics measure its demise on a global scale by a dedicated index built on the V-Dem dataset. For those who took academic freedom for granted, this fragility is an unpleasant surprise. It surfaced very quickly that while it is built on the premises of freedom of expression, academic freedom comprises competing elements, suppositions and justifications. Drawing on European case law the paper explores how illiberal attacks exploit these tensions, without crossing the red lines as currently drawn in human rights jurisprudence.

Renáta Uitz is professor of comparative constitutional law at Central European University, Vienna – Budapest, working on dilemmas of constitutionalism and the rule of law in the wake of illiberal practices. Her recent books include The Constitution of Freedom: An Introduction to Legal Constitutionalism (OUP, 2017) and the co-edited volume Critical Essays on Human Rights Criticism (Eleven, 2020). She is currently completing the Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism (coedited with Stephen Holmes and András Sajó). She is a team leader in BRIDGE, is a multi-disciplinary academic network investigating current European Union crises and assessing the European Union’s governance responses. In AY 2020-21 she is on research leave, as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at University College, London.

Stefan Theil will be the respondent. Stefan is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Faculty of Law. His primary research interests are in public law, human rights, digitilisation, and constitutional law. Born in Bangkok and raised in six countries on four contintents, Stefan completed his first degree in law at the University of Bayreuth (2011). After brief stints working for a commercial law firm and for the Research Services of the German Bundestag, Stefan earned an LL.M. from University College London (2013). Inspired to pursue a career in academia, he completed his doctoral work at the University of Cambridge (2018) shortly before joining the Bonavero Institute as the Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Civil and Political Rights. He is currently the academic coordinator of the Bonavero-UNESCO Joint MOOC on Freedom of Expression. You can follow Stefan on twitter and discover his papers on ResearchGate.