Academic freedom should be embraced, defended and never be taken for granted. This was the consensus at a meeting between representatives from Stellenbosch University (SU) and the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) at the University on Friday, 25 January 2019.
The meeting was convened following the withdrawal of several Israeli academics from a conference, entitled Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma, held at SU towards the end of 2018. The conference was organised by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Research Chair for Historical Trauma and Transformation at the University.
Professor Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of SU, expressed regret that the Israeli academics ended up not attending the conference. He further stressed the University's continued adherence to the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom, saying, “As a research-intensive university of global significance, we continue to welcome academics from all over the world at Stellenbosch University – including scholars from Israel – and co-create excellent research with significant social and academic impact."
The conference brought together a global network of scholars and practitioners to deliberate on questions relating to historical wounding and its transgenerational repercussions. However, scholars from Israel ended up not participating because they felt unwelcome by the manner in which the University engaged with anti-Israel activists. This perception of exclusion was not intended by the University, and we regret this and the subsequent loss of the important Israeli voices at the conference.
Professor Thuli Madonsela, Law Faculty Trust Chair for Social Justice and Law Professor at Stellenbosch University, also attended the meeting between the SAJBD and SU. She stressed that the efforts by the University had been aimed at ensuring peace and security around the conference following calls to exclude Israeli participants, and that it had never been its intention to undermine academic freedom nor to make Israeli participants feel unwelcome.
Every year, SU hosts several scholarly events that attract academics from across the globe. The University will, as in previous years, continue to welcome Israeli scholars as part of the University's commitment to internationalisation and promoting its vision of excellence as a leading centre of higher education research.
Read the online statement here.