Intellectual Poverty I - Universities and Politics

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The universities and their freedom of research are a prerequisite for democracy. People at universities are constantly questioning the existing order and, out of this process, a lot of innovative, challenging ideas arise, such as ideas about how things can be done differently and how old problems can be solved in new ways.

Political or religious interference in university work which prevents free research weakens one of the vital contributions to democracy, as do financial restrictions.

Other challenges

A prerquisite for the interaction between universities and democracy is that research is communicated so the general public can understand the new things that are happening. This communication is often inadequate, not least because there is a very big difference between being an accomplished scholar and a good communicator. Moreover, on the European continent there is no tradition of communicative skills playing a particularly important role in researchers' education or prestige. University environments have always been elitist and, among researchers, popular appeal is often equated with a lack of seriousness.

One may assume that researchers' traditional reservation about making their work popularly accessible is one of the reasons that some politicians do not understand that it is not the role of universities to develop marketable technology, but to generate new knowledge. When politicians do not understand what the difference is between research and development, then both politicians and universities have failed in a part of their role in a democratic society.

A university environment without freedom, without adequate resources and which fails its public obligation is not conducive to democracy. In order to work in tandem with democracy, it is important that universities or researchers as individuals participate in the public debate, make new knowledge available to the general public, arouse interest across disciplinary boundaries, produce innovative ideas and visions, question the existing order and discuss new opportunities for the development of society.

Universities where research is dictated by religion, political ideology or commercial interests are incapable of producing new thoughts and ideas. Without new thoughts and ideas, people are dumbed down and society can no longer deal with new challenges. Intellectually as well as literally, society will be poorer and the culture will stagnate.

Next chapter: Intellectual Poverty II - Lack of Philosophical Training