President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, delivered the opening address during a seminar organised by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing entitled, “Talking about the silence: Should academics position themselves on controversial issues?”
President Coleiro Preca stressed on the importance of academic freedom, and how it can be further encouraged within the University of Malta and other institutions of higher learning, stating that academic freedom is an essential factor, to create, sustain, and to encourage a free civil society.
The President said that academics must be able to safeguard respectful and dignified spaces, in which frank discussions can take place.
“It is so important for our society, that you, as academics, are bold, share your knowledge, and speak up for what you believe in.”
“Your ability, to exercise your academic freedom, is the closest we can get, as a nation, to break down the monopolies of power, privilege, party politics, and misinformation which so often constrain us,” the President said, whilst stressing the necessity of standing up for the truth even though the truth is sometimes inconvenient, especially for people is positions of power.
“Truth has never been so important in our world, as it is now, when “false news,” misinformation, and uncertainty have become the order of the day,” President Coleiro Preca stated.
“Our academics and students must feel empowered to express themselves without fear or anxiety.”
“If academic freedom is restricted, or if academics feel unable to speak freely, then that is a direct reflection of the limits of open dialogue in our society, at large,” President Coleiro Preca said, whilst reiterating that our democracy is built upon the fundamental right of individuals to debate and to challenge ideas, especially when these are controversial, and that imposing restrictions on these basic democratic rights is a slippery slope, which opens the door to authoritarianism and tyranny.
The President encouraged the academics present to uphold their important position within Maltese society, as the champions of democratic participation and active citizenship, adding that innovation and positive change can only happen when the status quo is questioned, and when new ideas are given the space to flourish.
“As academics, you are best placed to empower our young people, to become active and fully participative citizens.”
Stating that this is a key factor in moving to the next level of our democracy, the President said bigotry, prejudice and discrimination must be countered, wherever and whenever they occur, and that to do so, academics require an environment which is conducive to open and civil discussions.
“No issue should be considered too taboo or controversial to be discussed, in a responsible and healthy manner, and in a research- and evidence-based approach,” the President said.