Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1176, (12 - 18 December 2013)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1176, (12 - 18 December 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Once upon a time - Academic independence

The independence of the academia from all political and financial meddling is an article of faith in this country, one that the nation had to fight for time and again.
Eighty years ago, an entire issue of Magallati, was dedicated to the Egyptian University, which is now Cairo University.
Taha Hussein, future minister of education and the man often referred to as the “doyen of Arab literature”, was then a staff member of the College of Literature. In his seven-page essay to this issue of Magallati, which appeared on 1 October 1935, Hussein argued that academic and political independence were inextricably entwined.
The country’s political and intellectual leaders, including Wafd Party leader Saad Zaghloul and women rights champion Qassem Amin, strove to give Egypt an institution of higher learning that is independent of all authorities, be it the palace or the British authorities. The men who brought the Egyptian University into being were eager to revive the country’s sense of pride and dignity, Hussein remarked.
The university was launched just before the Great War, and the very men who supervised its formation were the ones who spearheaded the struggle for independence from the British occupiers. The purpose of the Egyptian University, therefore, was to defend the country’s independence and protect the pursuit of knowledge from the short-term whims of politics.
Hussein argued that the university founders only ceded the university to state’s tutelage under clear terms, which is to preserve academic independence and to refrain from intervening in the manner the university manages runs its affairs.
But these terms were broken by the government of Ismail Sidki Pasha, which stayed in power from 19 June 1930 to 27 September 1933. The Sidki government, Hussein noted, corrupted the constitution and tried to bend the parliament to its own will.
The Sidki government did not stop at encroaching on academic rights, but did the same to the judiciary. This is why Hussein argued that academic, judicial and political independence are all part of the same package. Once one strand of independence is assaulted, the entire nation has to take note.
Sidki Pasha did his best to change the rules of the university and bring it under the power of his government. His actions were humiliating to students and staff, and threatened the integrity of academic life.
Hussein argued that those who twisted the constitution (a reference to Sidki’s replacement of the 1923 constitution with the 1930 constitution) and broke their vows to seek the country’s independence cannot be trusted with the academia.
Egypt finally emerged from the ordeal, and the university regained its sense of confidence and direction, he stated.
The Egyptian University doubled in size since then, and it is no longer an easy prey for tyrants with little respect for knowledge, science or the arts.
But the threat is always there. And the only way that the Egyptian university can defend itself is through its internal cohesion and belief in its mission. There are laws in the country that protect the academia, but it is the resolve of the students and staff that offers the final protection against outside incursions.
The students and staff must defend their ideals and knowledge, and fight if needed for the independence of their institution. He called on the staff to “form their own administration and draft a vow to be upheld by students and staff.”
The academics, Hussein advised, should vow to “live for knowledge” and to defend the university against all threats.

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