Tel Aviv University, is Israel’s largest and top-ranked university. The University apart from being known for its cutting-edge research is also known for defending the right of its students and faculty, to free speech. The University’s President, Prof. Joseph Klafter speaks to BOOM founder-editor – Govindraj Ethiraj on the constant struggle to provide a learning environment free of limitations.
To Tel Aviv University’s President, Prof. Joseph Klafter, higher education is the driving force of an economy. And, both students and academicians can reach their potential if they are provided an environment in which freedom of expression and academic freeedom are allowed free reign. The whole structure of education collapses in the absence of these freedoms.
However, Klafter says that free speech and academic freedom are different from each other. Freedom of speech allows for faculty and students to say what they want while academic freedom places some restrictions.
He points out the fact that despite a fraught geopolitical situation, freedom of speech has been maintained in Israel’s universities. He adds to this: But freedom of speech in Israeli universities is not absolute as the institutions are publicly funded.
Prof. Klafter defines free speech as the duty to listen to your opponent even if their opinion drives you nuts. He moves on to say that he would defend ideas he is strongly against and this in itself is freedom of speech. When freedom of speech becomes a culture then it is easier to ensure its continuance.
Klafter touches upon the global campaign to boycott the academia of Israel and he says the academia has always acted like a bridge – Hence, boycotting Israeli academia is similar to cutting the peace branch you sit on.
He believes that there exists a strong correlation between free speech and scientific as well as cultural development. Klafter reveals the discovery of a memory driven by environment instead of a genetic code and the innovation of a multi-spectral camera at the Tel Aviv University, as examples of fruits of a free thinking environment.