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The role of academia in turbulent times

People come to KTH from all over the world to study and do research. They, like our employees, should of course be able to feel safe on our campuses – regardless of opinion or background.

Being part of a global world means that geopolitical conflicts are also discussed and, as we have now learnt, that such conflicts also give rise to loud protests and tent camps on campus. What has already happened in many other countries is now also a reality in Sweden.

It is important to emphasize and understand that it is not our role to take a stand in geopolitical conflicts; KTH must be free from political positions. The government is responsible for Swedish foreign policy. We will therefore not take any position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Free co-operation between academic institutions is part of the open society and also part of the freedom enjoyed by researchers and teachers. From time to time, we have such collaborations in regions where there are wars or conflicts, and in many cases it is precisely then that it is important to allow academic dialogue to take place. Today we have an agreement with an Israeli university. There is no activity within the framework of that agreement and we see no reason to reconsider this at the moment. In other words, there is no exchange.

I and many others at KTH have received signals, in many different channels, that people feel uneasy and uncomfortable with the protests in the courtyard that have been going on since last week and the demonstration held on 21 May.

Our assessment of the situation on our campus and how the protests should be handled is based on the police’s assessment, and we are continuously monitoring events and are in contact with other higher education institutions that are currently experiencing the same types of protests on their campuses. The perceived insecurity and intimidation that some of our students and staff are experiencing is juxtaposed with the constitutional right to freely express their views.

Academic freedom and freedom of expression are essential to a democracy and must be defended again and again. But at the same time, this freedom does not mean that everyone should think the same or that one side should be forced to think the same as another.

Employees and students who remain silent out of discomfort or even fear are devastating for a university. A free search for knowledge, exchange of ideas and respect for each other is the foundation of KTH. Even in these challenging times, we must hold on to these values.

KTH supports the statement issued by the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) in response to the war between Israel and Hamas. (in Swedish)