Knowledges at Risks. Universities addressing the challenges of academic freedom

mani alzate


Winter school and International Conference in Padova
February 18-22, 2019

Universities around the world are experiencing profound transformations brought about by a plurality of contradictory processes. Globalization, marketization and business-oriented management have an impact on how the educational mandate of university institutions is understood and translated into research and educational programs, often contributing to the marginalization of important disciplines, particularly the humanities and the social sciences. The widespread adoption of digital technology in educational activities offers new and productive opportunities for knowledge exchange. Still, it also profoundly transforms the very processes of knowledge pursuit, production, dissemination, ownership and utilization. The outcome of these developments – in terms of access to knowledge and its relevance to public interest and democracy – is largely uncertain. A strong push towards loosely defined ‘internationalization’ is leading to an increase of international agreements between higher education institutions.

At the same time, a backlash against globalization – and a rise in nationalist populism across the globe along with growing anti-immigrant sentiment – are making it more difficult for scientists to conduct collaborative, international research and to share ideas, innovations and data – both with each other and the public. In this context, the recent growth of authoritarianism and the rise of overt conflicts across the world have affected a growing number of scholars in many regions. They have been exposed to violent aggression, imprisonment, prosecution, job loss, expulsion and travel restrictions.

These developments spurred a widespread response by academic institutions, with the design and implementation of collaborative plans for the support and protection of at-risk scholars, as demonstrated by the activities of Scholars at Risk (SAR). In all the above-mentioned cases, the nexus between knowledge and governance - particularly higher institution governance and risk-related politics - requires adequate attention for its possible consequences, as well as in depth reflection on future developments.

In this context, a Winter school devoted to ‘Knowledges at Risk’ will be held in Padova on February 18-22, 2019, to address the many challenges to knowledge development and dissemination in times of crises, conflict, globalization and digital transformations.

A public session titled "Knowledges at risk: Universities promoting academic freedom" (February 18–19, 2019, Aula Nievo at Palazzo Bo, Padova) will devote particular attention will be paid to higher education institutions, on their role and responsibilities, as well as on the initiatives they can activate to protect and support students and researchers in their activities. This session will also be the occasion for the official launch of SAR Italy, the national SAR network.

The Winter school and international conference are jointly organized by the University of Padova, Department of Political Sciences, Law and International Relations; the University of Trento, Department of Sociology and Social Research; Scholars at Risks International Network- SAR.