Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Saturday underlined the need for protecting universities as spaces for independent thought, intellectual freedom and liberal values. “In a period of rampant distrust of matters intellectual, there is an imperative need to defend the universities as free space, as independent, critical repositories of knowledge, and as source of renewal of liberal values that provide avenues of social mobility and equality to people,’’ Ansari said in his address at the 66th convocation of Panjab University. He defended the right to dissent and agitation, calling them fundamental rights under the Constitution. “It is constitutional morality that must guide government, not any whimsical invocation of narrow minded, parochial figureheads and mythical characters,’’ he said.
Ansari alluded to incidents of campus unrest. “Recent events in our own country have shown that there is much confusion about what a university should or should not be. The freedom of our universities has been challenged by narrow considerations of what is perceived to be public good,” he said. He quoted Ambedkar, Tagore, eminent educationists and academics from around the world and added that a university should be able to nurture a tolerant environment for intellectual freedom to thrive. “Academic freedom requires a robust tolerance for disagreement and criticism, a willingness to have one’s assumptions questioned and openness to new ideas that may prove offensive. This tolerance always has the potential to conflict with other virtues and causes, so it needs to be defended repeatedly and vigilantly.”
He asked universities to discharge their responsibility “of speaking out without the fear of intimidation and give offence at the cost of inviting protests”. He added that they must take “all legal action necessary to defend their academic integrity and freedom”. Ansari said a university is not just a catalyst of scientific and economic change, but also a vehicle of equalisation of opportunities and democratisation. He underlined the importance of social science research as a valuable tool to understanding of political and economic process, which could help identify resentments and address them in time. “Research also helps to deconstruct social and cultural mythologies that circulate and proliferate in any society, especially during phases of change and uncertainty.’’
Haryana Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki and Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher attended the convocation, where honoris causa degrees were given to Supreme Court Chief Justice Kehar Singh and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi. Actor and alumnus Anupam Kher was also honoured.