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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 November 23 - 29  > Nagoya Univ. Charter of Physics Dept. : research shall be democratically conducted
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2016 November 23 - 29 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Nagoya Univ. Charter of Physics Dept. : research shall be democratically conducted

November 25, 2016
Seventy years ago in June, Nagoya University, one of the seven former imperial universities, introduced the Charter of the Physics Department ahead of the promulgation of the Japanese Constitution. The Charter places democracy as the guiding principle of department affairs, stipulating that decisions on important matters, including selection of professors and allocation of funds, shall be made with the consensus of all researchers.

On the other hand, the present government is making light of the significance of basic research and is now turning its attention to promoting research which contain military applicability. In this situation, the university’s Charter of Physics is gaining much attention from not only physicists but also from many other academics feeling a sense of crisis regarding academic democracy and freedom.

Sakata Shoichi, a pioneer of Japanese particle physics along with Nobel laureates Yukawa Hideki and Tomonaga Shin’ichiro, created the momentum to enact the Charter.

Physicist Sawada Shoji, professor emeritus of Nagoya University, said, “After the war, members of the Department of Physics returned to Nagoya from rural areas to which they had been evacuated. One day in January 1946, Sakata held a meeting of his own research group and made a statement which later led to the establishment of the Charter.”

According to Sawada, Sakata on that day said: “The best way in deciding on every detail of research is for all faculty members and students to actively participate in discussions regarding research design, policy, and progress.” Then, in June of the same year, they held the first meeting of the Department and adopted the Charter, Sawada explained.

Nobel Prize winner Masukawa Toshihide, a distinguished professor of Nagoya University and the director general of the Kobayashi-Masukawa Institute for the Origin of Particles and the Universe, recalled, “When I was still in graduate school, I once attended a deliberative council meeting on curriculum as a delegate representing graduate students.” He added, “I was also appointed to the chairman of a subcommittee over the heads of tenured professors.”

Sawada also pointed out that elementary particle theorists at that time, in addition to Sakata, Yukawa, and Tomonaga, respected equal discussions among them and that such a liberal atmosphere played an important role in spreading democratic laboratorial management around physics departments at other Japanese universities.

What is it like now?

Tanabashi Masaharu, the Nagoya University professor who is now in charge of the laboratory set up by Sakata, said, “A regular meeting of the faculty of physics takes place four times a year, up three from the initial annual meeting. We occasionally have special meetings as well. Each lab also holds a meeting on a weekly basis.” Professor Sato Noriaki who is in charge of the faculty said, “Everyone in the school is aware of the importance of maintaining an atmosphere where graduate students and young researchers can participate in discussions equally with professors.”

Meanwhile, the government’s recent tendency toward downplaying basic research is casting a shadow over basic academic research.

Tanabashi said, “When graduate students give their presentations at various venues, the cost is covered by our research budget. However, most of the budget is for competitive research so we always have difficulty assuring that every student has the opportunity to report their research findings.”

Sawada said, “All the previous Nobel Prize-awarded research bore fruit only because the researchers had been able to devote their time to research using their own imagination in a liberal atmosphere. To ensure such research, a democratic climate is essential. Most importantly, it should be the national government that supports financially and physically the maintenance of academic democracy.”

Masukawa expressed his concern about public invitation of applications for the research subsidy program initiated by the Ministry of Defense. He warned, “The United States during the Vietnam War gathered Nobel-class researchers to conduct research. However, many of the participating researchers began feeling pressured to not oppose the war. The situation in present Japan is similar to this. By applying for the subsidy program, researchers will be coerced to support the defense authorities’ policies. Eventually, they will not be able to conduct research freely any longer.”
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