Saturday, June 4, 2011

No dismissal for researcher!

No dismissal for researcher Barbara Van Dyck!
June 3, 2011

On Friday June 3th 2011, the Catholic University of Leuven sacked researcher Barbara Van Dyck because of her public support for the actions of Field Liberation Movement (FLM) in the context of an action against a genetically modified potato field in Wetteren, Belgium on Sunday May 29th. Whether one agrees with the aim and tactic of this action or not, the sanction is disproportionate and a breach of academic freedom and freedom of speech. We appeal to academics worldwide to resist this dismissal and to sign this open letter.

On Friday June 3th we learned that Barbara Van Dyck was sacked because of her solidarity with the activists of the Field Liberation Movement in the context of an action against a test field with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), in this case potatoes, in Wetteren on May 29th. We are shocked by this sanction, because it is disproportionate and a breach of labour law and the principle of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Barbara Van Dyck participated in the action in Wetteren during her private time (on a Sunday) and not during service. Moreover she is not discharged for committed actions or trespassing, but because of her solidarity with the activists and her public support for their actions. We question the reasons of the University to dismiss her.

With this disproportionate sanction, which boils down to Berufsverbot, the University breaches one of the core values that are central in her own mission statements: academic freedom. We like to remind the authorities that academic freedom does not only imply the possibility to do independent research, but also the individual freedom of the academic to ‘take a critical stance towards certain tendencies or parts of society. This individual freedom is the corner stone of our academic identity’ (rector speech opening academic year 2003[i]). A similar reasoning we find in the UNESCO recommendations, par. 26: ‘all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience (…) They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion (…). They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights.’[ii]

Moreover the university breaches the democratic basic right that is foundational to our society: freedom of speech. By discharging a researcher for her sympathies with this action, the K.U/Leuven inscribes itself in a new climate of criminalisation of activism and even the criminalisation of sympathy for activism. She is sanctioned for her open sympathies and solidarity with the Field Liberation front, not for her deeds.

One has not to agree with the target and tactics of the action to recognize its broader social relevance: what is socially just and ecologically sustainable agriculture? Which role gmo’s play in this and how do we spread research finances in a equitable way over different options? The narrowing down of this action as a deed of violence, shifts the attention from a most necessary social debate. The presence of scientists in both camps proves that also within the scientific community there is no consensus on the necessity and value of gmo’s.

We call on the university authorities to keep its trust in critical reflection and the social commitment of its researchers. We request this dismissal to be withdrawn. We call upon the personnel of the KULeuven and the international academic community tot protest against this discharge. This case has ramifications that surpass the individual case of Barbara Van Dijck, as it is about the future of science (and its link with industry), the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

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