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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 May 7 - 13  > Academic freedom in danger
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2014 May 7 - 13 [WELFARE]

Academic freedom in danger

May 8, 2014
Spreading from Europe in the 13th century, universities have developed as independent academic institutions in many countries. During their centuries-long history, “institutional autonomy of universities” became established as a way to preserve academic research and freedom from state interference. This is a global common understanding.

Article 23 of the Japanese Constitution stipulates, “Academic freedom is guaranteed,” providing the legal basis for autonomy of universities in Japan.

The School Education Act embodies this provision, and Article 93 states that universities shall set up faculty councils to deliberate important matters.

The Abe Cabinet, however, is now seeking to alter this article to transform the existing faculty councils from being deliberative organs regarding university operations to ones just giving an opinion only when university presidents think it necessary.

The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) has called for legal changes in order to narrow the scope of items that the faculty councils can deliberate. The Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) has also proposed that the faculty councils be just advisory bodies.

Responding to these requests, the Abe government submitted to the current session of the Diet a bill to revise the School Education Act to marginalize the faculty councils and instead to strengthen the powers of university presidents. Discussions on the bill will start this month.

At present, faculty councils discuss compiling academic curricula, hiring lecturers, evaluating the performance of teaching staff, appointing deans, and recomposing departments.

Under the draft revision, the faculty councils cannot have a say in university management other than on items related to student enrollment and graduation, completion of courses, and conferment of degrees. Teaching staff cannot even deal with curricular compilation.

The bill calls for an organ to be established in each university to select the president. Consisting also of extra-university figures such as education ministry officials, corporate executives, and municipal heads, this organization will decide on criteria for selection. If not fitting these criteria, even a winner of the presidential election in which faculty members voted cannot be the president.

The education ministry claims that it is necessary to establish presidential leadership to promote university reforms. In fact, if anyone who fails to gain support from a majority of faculty members can assume the presidential position and the faculty council has to follow the policy decided by the president, this will function to give birth to autocratic presidents.

Professor at Yamagata University Nasu Toshio who had the experience of being a dean expressed his concern that the government will have university presidents in its pocket.

Nishimuta Yuji, a professor at Kyoto University, suggested the possibility that teachers critical of state policies would be excluded. He said, “In the field of economics, there has been a move to weaken the influence of Marxist economics. Allowing presidents to make a curriculum without listening to faculty council’s opinions will boost the chance of ousting Marxist economics from the curriculum.”

Hirowatari Seigo, a professor at Senshu University and former vice president of the University of Tokyo, said, “University is a place where everyone addresses each challenge on her/his own initiative. When teaching staff cannot participate in university operations on their own initiative, how can it be possible to foster independent-minded students?”

Past related article:
>Abe gove’t proposes bill to destroy university autonomy [April 26, 2014]
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