Yesterday the world celebrated International Academic Freedom Day. Or maybe it wasn’t. Fittingly, it seems academics cannot agree when to celebrate academic freedom.
The advocacy organisation Scholars at Risk celebrates International Academic Freedom Day in solidarity with, and on the occasion of, World Teachers’ Day, 5 October. Since 1994 when it was created by UNESCO, World Teachers’ Day celebrates and aims to mobilise support for educators at all levels and to ensure quality education for future generations. At the higher education level, Scholars at Risk and partners worldwide use this day to call increased attention to the importance of core university values—including academic freedom, institutional autonomy, access, accountability, social responsibility and respect for human rights—not only for the education sector, but for all members of society. A day celebrating these values encourages greater public understanding and public responsibility for defending the educational space at all levels.
However, the group Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF) launched International Academic Freedom Day on 1 February in 2009 and have had three years of holding successful events. Their International Academic Freedom Day is linked to the publication (as close as records give us) of John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’, which was 1 February 1859.
Meanwhile a third International Academic Freedom Day is held on what used to be ‘Darwin Day‘, Charles Darwin’s birthday (February 12), with advocates of that day encouraging students everywhere to speak out against censorship and stand up for free speech by defending the right to debate the evidence for and against evolution.