Taking cognisance of these developments, the Senate of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), at its second sitting of 2017 adopted a resolution in defence the global knowledge commons. This resolution recognises the huge dangers posed to the conduct of science and to the international pursuit of knowledge by the political changes in the most advanced and highly developed capitalist nation, the United States of America. Senate also considered the impact of recent executive decisions concerning investments in research and development as well as the constraints being placed on the mobility of people through the implementation of stricter border controls.
With a direct line of accountability to the Council, Senate, which is a statutory structure of the University that is required by legislation to be constituted by a majority of Academic employees, is charged with the responsibility for all the teaching, learning, research, community service, and academic functions of the University.
The Oxford English Dictionary had designated the ‘Post-Fact’ as Word of the Year for 2016. Associated with such populist renditions, has been the election of a person to the US Presidency with an avowed ‘anti-science’ stance. Since him taking office, the USA has experienced massive decreases in funding for science and technology, the non-appointment of key staff, and the rise of ‘alternative facts’ as reasons for policy decisions.
Since the USA remains the world’s largest funder of scientific enquiry and thereby contributes to the reduction of research funding globally, Senate is extremely concerned about these dire changes. Restrictions on the mobility of scientists through border controls also impact negatively on the generation of new knowledge.
For South Africa, currently in an economic recession while at the same time undergoing significant changes, the Senate resolution confirms the University’s position in both the post-school education and training sector whilst remaining a critical role-player in the country’s national system of innovation.
In seeking to advance our orientation towards becoming a People’s University, the Senate resolution also confirms the requirements for remaining globally connected, ensuring local embeddedness with our local communities through ensuring “universal access to TUT’s resources for research, development, science and technology and constantly improving such capacities, capabilities, and competencies for expanding the global knowledge commons.”
The full text of the TUT Senate resolution, as adopted on 5 June 2017, is as follows:
Resolution of the Senate of Tshwane University of Technology against Emerging Threats to the Pursuit of Science and in support of the Global Knowledge Commons
Recent global developments, particularly in the geo-political sphere, raise concerns about the contribution, interference in, and sustainability of science and technology for the global good of humanity. While Science is about studying nature and accumulating knowledge for knowledge’s sake, it also includes application – accessing and utilising knowledge for the progress of the common good of humanity in consideration of the sustainability of our future in alignment with the bio-physical boundaries of our planet. This includes the role of the Academy (represented by the Senate of TUT) in ethically and responsibly advocating, defending, and promoting knowledge production, and ensuring the universal dissemination thereof both locally and globally. The Academy has freedom, duties and responsibilities, and by its very nature, the stature to speak on behalf of the common good when the future good and survival of humanity and the positive contribution of knowledge production, science and technology, is under threat.
- Whereas the progress of science and reason is contingent upon the progress of society and evolution of social relations; and
- Whereas science and technology has developed the capacities, capabilities, and competences for humanity as a whole, and thereby expanded the power of production, distribution, consumption and waste-treatment, society remains trapped within the increasingly irrational capitalist mode of production that merely seeks to advance the interests of private capitalist ownership whilst destroying social and communal forms of organisation; and
- Whereas Science is an international human enterprise whereby knowledge frontiers are consistently being expanded through global collaboration; and
- Whereas the United States of America (USA) currently represents the most advanced and mature capitalist economies on the planet, and therefore the largest financier of research and science; and
- Whereas attacks on the scientific method and clear scientific consensus has massively increased since the election of the 45th President of the USA on 9th November 2016; and
- Whereas 400 scientists of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco demonstrated against the immanent attacks on science on 13 December 2016; and
- Whereas since assuming office, the 45th President of the USA has sought to debase the concepts of truth and evidence-based knowledge through inducing ‘alternative-facts’ to counter scientific consensus, reducing funding for scientific research, and attacking public education; and
- Whereas the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists1, in escalating the probability of a global catastrophe (doomsday clock) acknowledged that “In addition to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, new global realities emerged, as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used in cavalier and often reckless ways” (2017: 2); and
- Whereas the 45th President of the USA enacted an executive order temporarily ban all refugees and citizens of seven ‘Muslim-majority’ countries from entering the USA on 27th January 2017; and
- Whereas a large proportion of the delegates to the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science constituted a Rally to Stand Up for Science which warmed against the ‘muzzling of scientists and government agencies, the immigration ban, the deletion of scientific data, and the de-funding of public science, the erosion of [their] institutions of science’ as a dangerous direction for the USA and further argued that under such a regime, ‘real people and communities bear the brunt of these actions’ on 19th February 2017; and
- Noting that a March for Science was organised in 22nd April 2017 (traditionally recognised as ‘Earth Day’) which mobilised hundreds of thousands of people into various demonstrative actions including approximately 580 protests world-wide (including in South Africa) and in more than 600 cities in the USA. The March for Science represented a clear initial step taken by the scientific community and supporters in taking mass action against the vicious attacks on science perpetuated by the 45th President of the USA;
- Resolves to stand in solidarity with the knowledge workers of the world and the researchers and scientists located in the USA to collaboratively and cooperatively mobilise against:
12.1 Suppression, limitation, and censorship of research and development;
12.2 Attacks on access to public education and constraints on participation in the generation of knowledge; and the
12.3 Subordination of science to the profit requirements of the dominant global economic forces (namely, the ruling capitalist class) and its political apparatuses.
- As a core component of the South African National System of Innovation and a significant facility of the Post-School Education and Training System, the Senate of TUT is further committed to redressing the scourge of anti-science perspectives by:
13.1 Engaging with local communities to better define and develop research challenges thereby ensuring its own relevance and appropriateness as a higher education and training institution;
13.2 Advancing universal access to TUT’s resources for research, development, science and technology and constantly improving such capacities, capabilities, and competencies for expanding the global knowledge commons;
13.3 Widening the remit of Faculty and University-wide engagements to ensure participation of local communities in the ongoing transformation of TUT; and
13.4 Develop pilot projects identified by the Academy or by communities, and mutually negotiated with and based on community needs, to resolve some or other basic problem – sanitation, food sovereignty, environmental protection, educational and social rights – in the local and global communities of the university.
1 According to the Editor: “Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains” (2017: 3).
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