NOU 2022: 2

Academic freedom of expression — A good culture of free speech must be built from the bottom up, every single day

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3 Academic freedom of expression – interpretation, delimitation and grounds

3.1 What is academic freedom of expression?

3.1.1 Introduction

The Commission has been tasked with «investigating issues relating to academic freedom of expression».1 But what exactly is academic freedom of expression, and how does it relate to academic freedom and freedom of expression, respectively?

In this section, we clarify how the Commission views these three phenomena and they relate to one another. We have not set out to provide a definition of the term «academic freedom of expression». Instead, we have used a functional approach, delimiting this freedom for our purposes via an interpretation of the assignment given to us and how best to resolve it.

The introduction to the mandate and the description of the background for the appointment of the Commission both focus on the challenges in respect of academic freedom of expression due to tendencies in the public debate. Developments here are highlighted as the main source of concern about whether academic employees actually feel that they are genuinely free to choose the topic and methods for their research and the organisation and content of their teaching. Genuine academic freedom is highlighted as a prerequisite for maintaining a high level of trust in research-based knowledge in society, as we will return to in section 3.2. In other words, the mandate does not highlight the legal scope for freedom of expression as the problem, but rather the social developments that influence academics’ arenas of expression in practice.

Interpretation and clarification

The appointment of the commission members, the background for the study and the mandate itself all focus on academic freedom of expression. The mandate also refers to «academic freedom». Academic freedom comprises both an institutional aspect and an individual aspect. We understand the link between these two concepts in the mandate to mean that we are primarily to consider the individual aspect of academic freedom. The aim is «to clarify the academic freedom of expression of the employees», not of the institutions.

The core of our work is to examine academic freedom of expression for academic staff in the higher education sector. However, the assessments and recommendations we make also apply to other research sectors, such as health trusts and research institutes, insofar as they are appropriate.

The Commission has focused its work on two basic questions. First, how does academic freedom of expression relate to both freedom of expression and academic freedom; and second, which parts of the academic mission is academic freedom of expression particularly relevant to.

3.1.2 What is academic freedom of expression relative to academic freedom and freedom of expression?

Rather than attempting to define academic freedom of expression, the Commission has regarded academic freedom of expression as a functional aspect of both the general freedom of expression and the individual academic freedom. We will therefore provide a brief description of freedom of expression and academic freedom, before explaining how we understand academic freedom of expression for the purposes of the Commission’s work:

Freedom of expression

All citizens have freedom of expression – including academics. This means that everyone has the freedom to express ideas and opinions on any matter they want, and to hear other people’s opinions.2

In other words, freedom of expression protects not only our right to say what we want to others, but also our right to be informed about what others have to say. The latter is sometimes also called freedom of information. Both are protected at the same legal level.

In terms of legal level, freedom of expression in Norway is protected in the Constitution and in human rights conventions.3 This means that freedom of expression – including that of academics – can only be subject to legal restrictions that have been adopted in the form of legislation and that are necessary and proportionate in relation to the grounds for freedom of expression.

The reasons why freedom of expression enjoys such strong legal protection are threefold: Freedom of expression is defining for each individual’s autonomy and freedom to form opinions, and it is a prerequisite for our pursuit of truth and for a genuine, functioning democracy.

There are a number of statutory exceptions to freedom of expression, such as the prohibitions against threats, calls to violence, hate speech against minorities, defamation, violation of the right to a private life and harassment. Within these limits, freedom of expression protects all expressions, in all forms, without regard to their quality.

The limits on freedom of expression can only be enforced after an expression has been made. There are two reasons why pre-censorship is prohibited. First, it is impossible to know what has been said until it has been said. Second, it is only then that other citizens can find out that the idea expressed exists, so that they can then applaud it and cheer it on or mobilise themselves against it.

Freedom of expression is not protected simply because we believe that as long as we have it, there will be a search for truth, democracy and free formation of opinions. Very many expressions definitely do not contribute to any of these goals. Errors, lies and manipulation abound, and many people are completely uncritical about what they hear and read. But without freedom of expression, it is difficult to imagine how these underlying goals can be realised. For what all-seeing authority can, in real time, know what it is necessary, apt or important to say at all times? The public sphere is a mosaic of expressions. It is impossible for anyone to decide, in the moment, which of the individual pieces will be crucial to create the whole picture for each of us. What moved us toward – or away from, an idea?

Supposedly constructive statements can be completely counterproductive – for example, scientific rebuttals of disinformation or conspiracy theories may end up reinforcing misconceptions rather than countering them.4 Similarly, obviously destructive expressions can have the opposite effect of what we might expect. Many people were shocked in 2021 when the Norwegian television channel TV2 showed a member of the group Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) verbally attacking the reporter Kadafi Zaman and asking what Pakistanis were doing in Norway, and in high positions. Zaman responded with a video on Instagram listing some of the archetypally «Norwegian» and constructive things he does as a «Pakistani in Norway», which was warmly received and widely shared on social media. This led to a flood of similar posts from other upstanding members of the Norwegian–Pakistani community under the hashtag #HvaPakistanereGjørINorge [what Pakistanis are doing in Norway]: «Teaching Nynorsk to Norwegians of all colours», «Delivering food to the evacuees after the Gjerdrum mudslide. What are you doing, SIAN?» The then Minister of Culture Abid Raja wrote «Running the country responsibly as part of the government.»5

Freedom of expression is a necessary but insufficient condition for the pursuit of truth, the promotion of democracy and the individual’s freedom to form opinions.

Academic freedom

In essence, academic freedom is the freedom to decide what to do research on, how to conduct research, how and where best to communicate information about the research that has been done, and how to teach.6

Academic freedom comprises two aspects, which are mutually interdependent, but which may also come into conflict with one another: institutional freedom and individual freedom.

The institutional aspect of academic freedom concerns universities and university colleges’ autonomy vis-à-vis their owners and sources of funding.

The individual aspect of academic freedom is the latitude academic staff have to choose their research questions, conduct research, and plan their teaching and dissemination activities, at and outside the institutions.

The Global Colloquium of University Presidents has summarised the ideals of individual academic freedom as follows:7

Academic freedom may be defined as the freedom to conduct research, teach, speak and publish, subject to the norms and standards of scholarly inquiry, without interference of penalty, wherever the search for truth and understanding may lead.

Academic freedom of expression

The Global Colloquium of University Presidents’ formulation draws attention to two things that the Commission believes are important for the interpretation of academic freedom of expression, in contrast to academic freedom and freedom of expression

First, it shows that academic freedom of expression is one aspect of individual academic freedom.

Second, academic freedom of expression is qualified in relation to the general freedom of expression that all people have: Expressions are subject to quality requirements in respect of both their content and their form.

A primary characteristic of the general freedom of expression is precisely the absence of quality requirements. As a general starting point, all expressions enjoy the same protection, no matter how shocking, irrelevant, emotional or irrational they may be.

Academic freedom of expression is subject to the norms and standards that apply in the research community. These norms and standards may set constraints regarding the content of academic expressions, such as use of an accepted scientific method, representativeness, ethics, relation to sources, etc. They can also set constraints regarding the form in which academic expressions are made, such as their objectiveness, transparency, impartiality and fair representation of opposing arguments, reference to sources, etc.

A key factor here is that quality control of academic expressions shall be carried out by peers within the academic community, using scientific methods and relevant arguments, not by the state through the use of legal sanctions, political decisions or guidelines, nor by the academic institutions.8

The quality requirements underline that academic freedom of expression also entails a responsibility of academic expression. This responsibility has two aspects. First, academics have a responsibility to adhere to the quality norms that apply in their field and the norms regarding objectivity and impartiality that enable debate. Second, they have a responsibility to ensure that other academics adhere to these norms; for example, through peer review and the advancement of alternative hypotheses, or by challenging ideas or adding nuance through the use of counter-arguments in the public debate. This is not a legal duty, but rather an academic responsibility.

Of the three grounds for the statutory freedom of expression, one in particular constitutes the main grounds for academic freedom of expression: the pursuit of truth.

Both of the other two grounds for general freedom of expression may also be important for academic freedom of expression. As an individual citizen, the individual researcher is also in a continuous process of individual learning and development. The individual researcher therefore has the same constitutional protection for their self-interest in imparting and receiving information or ideas on all kinds of issues, academic or otherwise. High-quality research-based knowledge is a crucial element of a viable democracy. The democracy-based defence is therefore also central to academic freedom of expression.

Nevertheless, it is society’s collective interest in the pursuit of truth that makes academic freedom of expression unique. It is the goal of seeking truth that allows academic freedom of expression to extend beyond ordinary freedom of expression in certain cases. Academic freedom of expression does not have this special protection out of consideration for the individual academic employee or student, but rather for the sake of our common interest in developing new quality-assured knowledge and uncovering new insights.

3.1.3 What part of the academic mission is academic freedom of expression particularly relevant to?

The academic mission is broad. In terms of the law, the purpose of universities and university colleges is to:

  • a. provide higher education at a high international level.

  • b. conduct research and academic and artistic development work at a high international level.

  • c. disseminate knowledge of the institution’s activities and promote an understanding of the principle of academic freedom and application of scientific and artistic methods and results in the teaching of students, in the institution’s own general activity as well as in public administration, in cultural life and in business and industry.

  • d. contribute to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development.9

Academic freedom of expression is absolutely essential for all these purposes. Nevertheless, we recognise that there are two elements of the academic mission that are particularly important for us to explore.

Academic freedom of expression within academia

The first element applies to points (a) and (b): How does academic freedom of expression affect – and how is it influenced by – the relationship between students and teachers, the relationship among the staff, and not least, the relationship between the staff and the institutions. This section addresses issues related to:

  • Influence from politicians, sources of funding and other external parties

  • Institutional management and governance

  • The institutional responsibility for education and training in academic freedom of expression

  • The institutional responsibility for the working environment

  • Culture of free speech at the institutional level

  • Culture of free speech at the collegial level, i.e. among academic staff

  • Culture of free speech between academic staff and students

This is also discussed in chapters 6 and 7.

Academic freedom of expression in connection with external dissemination

The second element concerns point (c) and academics’ opportunities to contribute to spreading and explaining knowledge about their activities outside the institutions and the academic community.

We regard the dissemination mission of academic staff to be of key importance to the Commission’s assignment. First, let us provide a brief explanation of how we understand dissemination:10

Dissemination may be researcher-oriented, teaching-oriented, user-oriented or public-oriented. One consideration behind the dissemination obligation in point (c) is that the knowledge developed, taught and managed by academics and academic institutions must also benefit the rest of society.

The academic mission already benefits society in many ways – not least through research and development of new knowledge, and the education of a large segment of the population.

In addition to this, academia benefits society in a broad sense through its civic mission to promote democracy. This part of the academic mission is fulfilled by academia’s ongoing contributions to meet society’s constant need for information and high-quality knowledge – our shared freedom of information.

Academic freedom of expression is a prerequisite for this knowledge-spreading aspect of academia’s social mission. It is also essential for Norway to be able to fulfil its duty to «create conditions that facilitate open and enlightened public discourse», which is imposed on the state authorities in Article 100 (6) of the Constitution.

This duty can be fulfilled in several ways. People outside academia can acquire some knowledge through books and journals that make research findings directly available. The public’s direct access will vary according to factors such as which texts can be accessed through the libraries, which research is openly available or requires expensive subscriptions, whether both the research and the underlying material are freely available (open access, open source), etc.

Much of academia’s knowledge-spreading civic mission takes place indirectly, through research-based knowledge produced by the academic communities being communicated to the outside world by the academic staff or students. Academics can act as «translators» between experts and laypeople.

«Dissemination» can be defined in a number of different ways, and, as previously mentioned, it is necessary for research, teaching and other distribution of academic knowledge. However, since the Universities and University Colleges Act treats dissemination as a separate component of the work assigned to academia and differentiates it from the other tasks that academic employees are required to perform pursuant to the Act, there is a residual category called «dissemination» that is different from «research» and «education». This work is aimed more at the general public.

Dissemination aimed at other researchers through publication in scholarly journals is ensured both by the fact that «research» is partly measured by this form of dissemination, and by the fact that research dissemination is crucial for academics’ career opportunities within academia and is thus structurally incentivised.

The same also applies to user-oriented and teaching-oriented dissemination to a certain extent: no dissemination, no teaching. Although dissemination of findings through research-based teaching is ensured and measured in other ways than research, it is very closely related to it. Teaching dissemination is also part of the academic mission that is secured through existing work duties and structures.

In contrast to research and teaching dissemination, the residual category of «dissemination» aimed at the general public is an element of the academic staff’s work duties that is not really subject to any structure and incentives, nor is it decisive for their career opportunities within academia.

Academic staff’s general dissemination can take place in many public spheres – from the broad and mainstream, via narrower or user-oriented lectures or contributions to innovation projects, to advice and participation in public committees. It can also take many forms. It may be one-way – as the dictionary definition implies, as an intermediary that passes on knowledge. But it may also be multi-way, such as when academics actively participate in discussions with their knowledge. This multi-way dissemination is essential to contribute to the pursuit of truth, enlightenment and the development of new knowledge. It can help ensure more efficient distribution of knowledge from experts to laypeople. But it is also crucial as an arena for experts to gain access to information and knowledge from laypeople. After all, it is only in interaction with broader public audiences that academics can attain insight into how their knowledge and arguments are regarded and perceived outside academia, i.e. how well they work «in the real world».

Sometimes this kind of multi-way dissemination is called research communication, to distinguish it from research dissemination. Linguistically, this distinction is useful. The Commission has nevertheless decided to use the term «dissemination» to refer to both one-way and multi-way contributions to enlightenment, and the flow of information from experts to laypeople and vice versa. The reason for this is that the concept of «dissemination» is so firmly established as an expression of the society-oriented aspects of the academic mission. The term «dissemination» is also used consistently in the current Universities and University Colleges Act. The Commission believes that any initiative to change the concept of dissemination in the sector should be considered in connection with follow-up of proposals for a revision of the entire Universities and University Colleges Act.

In order to distinguish academic freedom of expression from the general freedom of expression that everyone has, the Commission has found it useful to divide the dissemination of research results to the general public, where academic freedom of expression is central, into three main forms:

  • 1. academic and empirical information and/or advice on, and discussion of,

    • 1. research and teaching questions,

    • 2. academic findings and results and insight into ongoing projects, and

    • 3. institutional questions pertaining to the framework for research and teaching

  • 2. more general information, advice or debate on academic issues of a subject-specific or institutional nature that do not arise directly from what the individual academic is doing research on or teaching about, but that is based on their knowledge of the subject and scientific methods in a broad sense or on their experiences as an academic employee

  • 3. ordinary participation in the public debate on all kinds of issues

In our view, only the first two of these forms of dissemination can be regarded as the exercise of academic freedom of expression. It is for this type of dissemination that academic freedom of expression – with its responsibility for quality – is central.

The third form is also important: academic staff can and should participate in the public debate in line with other citizens. However, the freedom they have to do so rests on the general freedom of expression, and is protected and restricted accordingly. We have therefore not included this part of academics’ dissemination activities in our investigation.

It is important to note that it is not only the dissemination of issues the individual researcher has specifically researched that is covered by their academic freedom of expression. Academic freedom of expression also covers dissemination pertaining to the individual’s field of study in a broad sense, about the findings and research of others that they have particular insight into due to their academic experience or training, about scientific practices and methods, and about the institutional framework for academic work.

The reason for the first point is that a doctor, statistician, lawyer or climate scientist can also contribute to the necessary enlightenment and raising of the general level of knowledge in society in areas far beyond those they are specifically researching. This knowledge would quickly become very difficult to come by if we do not get help from academics who have dissemination as part of their job. If academics were only tasked with disseminating within their own narrow fields of research, we would not have the kind of «open and enlightened public discourse» that the Constitution presupposes.

The reason for the second point mentioned above is that academics may have special knowledge of and experience with questions about scientific methods and the way in which academia works, is structured and organised. This is a prerequisite for academic work. Legally, it is clear that academics have a particularly broad freedom of expression to voice their opinions about «academic and administrative issues, even if this involves contradicting their superiors or others. The free exchange of academic ideas and information is a fundamental principle and a prerequisite for universities and university colleges to be able to fulfil their mission in a democratic society.»11

3.1.4 Delimitations

In addition to the mandate and the background for the mandate, two other factors have been decisive for the Commission’s delimitation of its work: other work already being done on related issues, and the amount of time we have had at our disposal.

Several factors that are of importance for both institutional academic autonomy and individual academic freedom are currently being investigated in parallel to the Commission’s work. For example, there is currently a commission looking at funding in the higher education sector,12 a project to analyse academic freedom and trust in research-based knowledge,13 and the Freedom of Expression Commission, which is looking at, among other things,14 the general developments and how they are affecting the ways in which freedom of expression and information work, as well as the opportunities and challenges posed by new technological infrastructure. Where we have an overview of these parallel projects, we refer to those parts that are relevant to questions concerning academic freedom of expression. We have also not looked at issues that are already being dealt with by these other commissions.

The Commission had its first meeting on 3 September 2021, and will deliver its report in March 2022. There is a limit to what we can investigate and propose in such a short period of time. This means that we have not investigated several issues that are central to academic freedom of expression.

Artistic development work is another, separate area within academia, in addition to research, teaching and dissemination. Artistic expressions are central to the realisation of the grounds for freedom of expression in general, and the truth-seeking goal of academic freedom of expression in particular. We have not had the opportunity to delve deeper into the particular issues relating to academic freedom of expression that artistic development work raises. The observations and measures proposed in this report apply to artistic development work as and where appropriate.

Academic freedom of expression presupposes both ordinary freedom of expression and academic freedom. There are many prerequisites that must be in place for academic freedom to be safeguarded. There need to be institutions, and they must be organised and administered. The institutions’ strategies for the direction they wish to pursue in research and institutional priorities in respect of quality may have an impact on the freedom of the academic staff to choose projects and research questions. Both the institutions and the various research, teaching and dissemination projects need to be funded. The state and institutional governance and position structure must take both institutional and individual academic freedom into account. Funding and prioritisations must take place in a way that allows for academic freedom, both formally and practically. Legal regulations to ensure, among other things, protection of the privacy of the individual, compliance with ethical guidelines and fulfilment of instructions may limit academic freedom in connection with research, teaching and dissemination. Several of these challenges are described in Official Norwegian Report (NOU) 2006: 19 Academic freedom, chapter 4.15 We will touch upon some of these in chapter 6 of this report to the extent that they are relevant, but we have not explored these issues in any depth.

3.2 Why is academic freedom of expression important?

Academic freedom of expression is necessary to promote a number of the ideals presupposed by the rule of law and democracy.16 In this chapter, we identify some of them. In practice, these ideals face a number of different challenges. We describe some of these challenges in chapter 6.

Academic freedom of expression: an ever-relevant civic responsibility

In her speech at the Nobel Prize Summit in 2021, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the following:

A widespread scientific culture is the only antidote against a mentality that sees conspiracies everywhere. So yes, our democracies need science, and yes, we need a new enlightenment.

Conspiracies abound and are difficult to refute – even with knowledge. And since we do not have any other «antidote», academic freedom of expression remains essential.

An absence of informed voices – including both those who are right and those who are wrong, and who thereby create rungs on the ladder towards new insights – weakens our public discourse. People stop seeking the truth. Public spheres can become more conformist – or more confusing. We also need more knowledge, more insight, and more reflection to counter less coordinated fallacies than conspiracy theories – which can range from deliberate misinformation to innocent misunderstandings.

David Hume’s assertion that reason is the slave of passions is supported by studies of human behaviour: Emotions and intuitive assumptions distract us from the rational pursuit of the truth all the time – we think we are right, but often we are wrong. Cognitive bias17 is the tendency we have to favour information that confirms or strengthens our existing beliefs or values, regardless of whether it is incorrect. And to dismiss information that contradicts them, even when it is correct. We regarded scientific evidence as more convincing if it aligns with our existing conceptions and moral values. If we have a particular motive for believing something, we prefer to do so – without asking critical questions. We believe that we ourselves are objective, impartial and rational, while others have hidden agendas. In groups, we are exposed to dynamics we are not aware of. When we discuss with like-minded people, we do not become wiser or more moderate; rather our beliefs are simply amplified or reinforced. In these kinds of bubbles or echo chambers, we collectively become less critical, even when the reasoning is obviously weak. We have a tendency to agree with the first speaker, and the more people appear to agree, the harder it becomes to be the one who puts forward an alternative view.

It takes time for rationality and afterthought to kick in and moderate our intuitive, emotion-driven (erroneous) conclusions. Often we do not take the time necessary, as «things have got us whirling around so fast». In an increasingly complex everyday life, where we have instant access to huge volumes of information and news spreads like wildfire, our human weaknesses are becoming increasingly apparent. This is further exacerbated by algorithms, the purposes and functioning of which we have little insight into. We become lulled inside reassuring echo chambers or allow our feelings to run away with us at the expense of reason. In addition, the distance between those who have quality-assured knowledge and those who do not is growing. Academic freedom of expression is an inadequate, but absolutely necessary antidote to this.

Society needs its established truths to be challenged

Modern everyday life is full of things that were once sensational, scientific breakthroughs and that we now take for granted. Examples include electricity, aircraft, X-ray machines, penicillin, GPS technology, to name but a few. A decisive driving force behind these and a number of other discoveries has been the ability and willingness to seek the truth – and thus also challenge the established truths. Throughout history, this driving force has at times been associated with risks to one’s own life (Giordano Bruno) or reputation (Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin).

There are also examples from the modern era of the cost of challenging established truths and those who profit from them. They may come from above, in the form of political resistance, intervention or priorities, or from below or outside, in the form of public shaming, intimidation or outright threats.

This is known from research on tobacco and cancer, recent research on the health and environmental impact of industrial food production, and research on epidemics and pandemics. And even if new ideas are not always met with unacceptable reactions, scientists who cross established patterns and communities may find it difficult to obtain funding. This was the case for a long time for the development of the mRNA vaccine technology that has been so crucial in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

As individuals and as a society, we have an overwhelming interest in ensuring good conditions for the people who want to seek new knowledge and challenge established truths. A crucial such condition in this respect is academic freedom of expression. In order to be able to develop evidence-based, new knowledge and new understandings, it is essential that ideas can be freely and frankly expressed, exchanged, criticised and developed without fear of reprisals. Free, reason-based discussion and criticism are prerequisites for scientific advances – and for us as a society to be able to benefit from them.

Democracy depends on academic freedom of expression

Academic freedom of expression is both an aspect of and a prerequisite for human rights and democracy. The right to seek, receive, create and impart information and ideas of all kinds is a fundamental human right, and academic freedom of expression is particularly important for actively promoting scientifically produced knowledge.

Democracy presupposes the free exchange of opinions. To this end, we have the general freedom of expression, which ensures the right to assert both well-founded and unfounded opinions. Everyone – including academics – is protected by this freedom.

By contrast, academic freedom of expression is characterised by quality requirements in respect of both content and form (see section 3.1). It ensures the right to methodically seek and express objective knowledge, including the right to criticise and be criticised by one’s peers. Consequently, it has a particularly important democratic function: Democracy needs informed debate – for example, about how the rule of law works, whether equal rights for all are secured in practice, whether the democratic institutions and processes are effective in ensuring people’s safety and basic services, about the level of civic participation and the division of power, about the relationship between national democracy and international obligations. If this kind of pursuit of the truth and critical debate cannot be conducted without fear of reprisals from the state or others, we do not have a democracy and respect for human rights.

Democracy also requires strong institutions that are independent of the state. The academic institutions have a particularly important role as guarantors for the freedom to develop and express evidence-based views, even when they are controversial or unpleasant. The academic institutions are therefore an essential part of our democracy.

Academic freedom of expression can promote social, cultural and political diversity

Strong academic institutions help ensure the division of power in society. The academic freedom of expression that these institutions protect can contribute to both diversity and understanding of the importance of diversity. Acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs is an important component of social mobility, while a lack of such acceptance is exclusionary and inhibiting for people who think and speak differently. Promoting academic freedom of expression is therefore important for the political, social and cultural vitality of society.

Academic freedom of expression can promote trust

A high level of trust is an important pillar in Norwegian society: it contributes to unity and a common social morality, it strengthens individuals’ opportunities for self-development, and it is essential for a well-functioning democracy. Open public debate is a necessity to ensure a continued high level of trust in Norway. The level of trust in society is under pressure for a number of reasons, including the proliferation of fake news and growing polarisation on many communication platforms, making it all the more important to ensure there is a large arena for actors who contribute to knowledge-based and solution-oriented public debate. Protecting and strengthening academic freedom of expression – and thereby also strengthening confidence in research and knowledge institutions – is therefore a contribution to safeguarding an important part of Norway’s social fabric.

Academic freedom of expression is necessary to resolve the big problems facing society today

To meet the major challenges of our era, we need new knowledge, critical assessment and challenging of established truths, research-based evaluation of measures, and evidence-based trial and error testing. Many of these challenges – and their solutions – require political trade-offs and are often controversial: climate change and environmental problems, epidemiological crises, refugee and migration issues, and social and economic inequalities. However, it is not only political debates that can become heated; also the fundamental search for new knowledge in these areas of society can easily become the subject of controversy, suspicion or, at worst, intimidation and harassment. This makes it more difficult – but all the more important – for academic staff to make use of their academic freedom of expression: it is precisely these kinds of situations that truly reveal society’s need for evidence-based debates and decision-making processes.

An additional challenge going forwards is the increasing time pressure we face to resolve existential challenges. The current climate change and environmental crisis – and the changes it will necessitate – are now so acute that more continuous, critical dialogue between research and decision-makers will be required in the future. The latter need to be able to make decisions quickly, and to promptly correct the course as researchers produce further new knowledge. The fact that scientific work must be done in closer, more continuous interaction with the authorities heightens the importance of understanding and defending the role of science, and protecting and promoting academic freedom of expression.

Academic freedom of expression can strengthen innovation and competitiveness

Norway is facing major and growing challenges related to the need to adapt, in part as a result of the global energy transformation to tackle climate change, demographic changes and geopolitical changes. Parallel to this, Norway also has a growing need to strengthen its ability to innovate. Norway is not currently a leading innovator internationally. Innovation is necessary to ensure competitiveness, jobs and welfare in the future.

Innovation is driven by challenging established truths. Since policies and public debate are often rooted in existing technologies and organisational solutions, and prevailing values and social norms, we need people and environments that challenge conventional wisdoms and push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. It is therefore important that the academic institutions encourage their employees to exercise their academic freedom of expression to test out new ideas, take part in the public debate, criticise the current systems, and offer ideas for improvements. This freedom is also an important driver for the pursuit of knowledge that might not immediately seem useful, but which may turn out to be fruitful: many epoch-making discoveries and innovations were the result of curiosity-driven research that did not begin with any specific goal.

Academic institutions are not – and should not be – actors in a commercial market, but they are key suppliers of knowledge that enables innovation and new market opportunities for trade and industry. Internationally competitive research communities that are powerhouses for expertise and creativity can contribute to innovation in local trade and industry, while drawing knowledge-based business opportunities and investments to the country. These kinds of research communities can also contribute to both increasing the level of knowledge in society and ensuring that we have a workforce with the required skills and expertise, which are two of the most important factors for strengthening Norway’s ability to compete internationally.



Letter of appointment from the Ministry of Education and Research dated 20 July 2021, see section 2.1.


See, among others, Article 100 of the Norwegian Constitution, Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention (1950).


See section 5.1.1


See section 3.2


A. Kierulf, Hva er ytringsfrihet? [What is freedom of expression?] p. 51–52


For more details, see section 2 of the Official Norwegian Report (NOU) 2006: 19 Akademisk frihet [Academic freedom].


Joint Statement from the Global Colloquium of University Presidents (2005)


According to section 1-5 of the Universities and University Colleges Act, the institutions must promote and safeguard academic freedom. This provision also stipulates that they have an independent responsibility for ensuring quality in academic work. These two statutory duties may come into conflict, and this is discussed in more detail in sections 6.2.2 and 7.2.2. This dilemma arises primarily in connection with research and teaching, and only to a lesser extent in connection with dissemination.


See section 1-1 of the Norwegian Universities and University Colleges Act.


See also Sammen om kunnskap II – Operasjonalisering av indikatorer for formidling [Sharing knowledge II – Operationalisation of indicators for dissemination] (2006) p. 10, which defines dissemination as the transmission of information about academic results, working methods and attitudes by academic staff from a field of research out to the general public and/or users for the purpose of transferring knowledge and insight. In this context, «users» refers to delimited groups that require the knowledge and technology in the practice of their occupation or profession, and institutions, organisations and others that can be equated with these.


Norwegian Supreme Court Report (Rt.) 2011 p. 1011, paragraph 8.


The Commission on the Funding of Universities and University Colleges was appointed on 9 September 2021 and submitted its report on 17 March 2022.


See footnotes 2 and 3, chapter 2.


The Freedom of Expression Commission was appointed on 29 November 2020.


Official Norwegian Report (NOU) 2006: 19 Akademisk frihet [Academic freedom]


See also Kierulf, …En åpen og opplyst offentlig samtale [An open and enlightened public discourse] (2017).


See Bias in psychology, Collections of examples can be found at The Decision Lab Cognitive Biases and Infographic Journal: 50 Cognitive Biases To Be Aware of To Be a Better Communicator

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