Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, November 24th, 2017

Kabul University and Academic Freedom

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Kabul University and Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is both a “core value and governing principle” of higher education institutions. Its proponents are in this belief that academic places are designed to pave the way for scholars, professors, students, and academic authorities to discuss the most challenging and tough cultural, economic and political issues, and such academic settings must be free from political interventions and extortions. In a broader concept, academic freedom is defined as the freedom of teaching and carrying out scholarly investigations or researches on social, political, cultural and religious matters at universities and colleges without having any kind of panic and fright of being retaliated later by the concerned authorities.
Given the above clarifications regarding academic freedom, how much Kabul University faculty are benefited from academic freedom? How the concept of academic freedom is interpreted and translated in the context of Afghanistan’s higher education? What is the chronicle of academic freedom in history of higher education in Afghanistan? To what extent the academic culture of Kabul University is conducive for the discourse of academic freedom? And we can add many more questions in the above list. I know that the abovementioned questions each can be discussed in a distinct paper per se. In this paper, I will have a critical overview on the idea of academic freedom at Kabul University.
The concept of academic freedom is interpreted in a different fashion in the academic culture of Kabul University, and the real essence of academic freedom does not exist at Kabul University. Generally, administrators, authorities, faculty and, students think that academic freedom means (a) not disrespecting others’ ideas, (b) not imposing one’s ideas on others, (c) not hurting somebody’s religious feelings or mocking them, (d) not discrimination between students in the class, (e) while discussing or talking about an issue, the professors should judge the conclusions impartially not stereotypically. In fact, all the above-mentioned points must be observed even in the absence of academic freedom because those things are pertaining to the mutual understanding of students and instructors, and they are the basic principles of academia. Usually, a wise and professional instructor /student will never say or do something that may regret later. Thus, analysts and observers believe the notion of academic freedom is deeper and more serious than the above issues. 
The real construct of academic freedom is manifested when instructors are free (a) to say the truth even if it may hurt the external political circles sentiments or may jeopardize their benefits, (b) to discuss political, financial, cultural, and social issues for the purpose of expanding and enhancing the knowledge and understanding of students without censorship by the administration, and fear of revenge and prosecutions by concerned authorities, (c) to express their opinion impartially and unbiasedly about the matters regardless of how much the matters are contentious or uncontentious, and finally (d) have unconditional academic freedom so that they can carry out their career perfectly and without being afraid of its consequences.  
In the above list of components of academic freedom, one point is central, and it underlies the entire composition of academic freedom – that is to talk and write, in other words, to do your duty without being of afraid of retaliated. To illustrate this issue further, let me present a highlighted example when I was a student at Kabul University. In 2010, when I was a freshman at Kabul University, College of Education, I was the witness of threatening of instructors by students in my own class. One of my classmates was failed in a subject. Since he belonged to a warlord family, not only he himself warned the instructor but also his father had told our instructor that if such “mistake” occurs again in the future, then you will not be any more at Kabul University. There are myriad such instances at Kabul University, and each of you may have directly or indirectly experienced such cases if you have done your undergraduate at Kabul University. Our instructor could not do anything against my classmate’s exactions and warnings because he neither knew that he had academic freedom no he was prepared for that risk to jeopardize his duty for revenging the student.
The question is here that why my instructor did not react against my classmate’s threats. In my mind, the answer of this question lies in the predominance of four serious problems at Kabul University which block the entire discourse of academic freedom. First, these problems take hold at Kabul University because (a) the judicial system is weak, and in some cases corrupt, (b) there is a weak rule of law in Afghanistan, and (c) there are not a lot of active and influential pro-academic freedom and university and college instructors’ organizations to defend from the academics in such circumstances. Therefore, the instructors know that in case they act against the drift status quo, they may lose either duty or even their lives.
Second, the intrusion of political cliques among students, faculty, and authorities at Kabul University has disguised the concept of academic freedom. When the instructor in my class could not act against my classmate’s threats, because he did not pertain to such political circle while the student did because he had the external support. While at that time, there were many instructors who were supporting and germinating a particular ideology, political movement, religious notions, and acting in the class as they desired, and were not caring about anybody because they had both the support of internal circles and external political groups. When we have such a nepotistic and partisan situation at Kabul University, academic freedom is a prosaic and disposal idea that only can have meaning and importance for writers and its adherents.
Third, lack of academic discourses regarding controversial and challenging social, historical, and political themes at Kabul University weakens the growth of academic freedom. Academic places are famous and well-known for analyzing, conversing, disagreeing, opposing, and solving the hardest political, social, cultural, economic…matters of the society. Unfortunately, at Kabul University both instructors and students do not the rights and to some extent the guts to talk about the hardest issues because the authorities think that holding such discussion in the class may hurt the public mindset about the university. While discussing academically and impartially about the argumentative matters does not hurt the general peace and public tranquility; conversely, it will enrich the social tolerance and acceptance among the people. Moreover, it will strengthen and institutionalize the pillars of academic freedom. While by concealing the truth, we can only keep calm the status quo but cannot cultivate a stable and dynamic social harmony and unity in the society. Again unluckily, the reason of such silent and reticent situation at Kabul University, lies in the absence of academic freedom. The more academic places are vibrant and can challenge the students and faculty, the more they flourish and grow up.
Fourth, in the ideal option and situation, should my instructor have been cognizant that he had the academic freedom, he may have reacted against the student because academic freedom empowers the instructors to claim for their jurisdiction for carrying out their obligations. All and all, in my view, as long as we have the intrusion of political circles among the authorities, students, and faculty at Kabul University, lack of awareness regarding the importance of academic freedom among the faculty, lack of constructive academic debates among the faculty and students about the hard, bitter and challenging issues either past or present, we may not experience the flavor of real ethos of academic freedom at Kabul University.  

Hamid Bamik is a Graduate Student in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis University of Missouri-Columbia. He can be reached at the hbqwf@mail.missouri.edu

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