Ricard López, 31 March 2023
The rectors of Catalan public universities, in an act of Òmnium in favour of the amnesty of the imprisoned politicians of the ‘procés’ / EP
A study by Norwegian professors on academic freedom in the EU confirms the lack of political neutrality of the governing bodies of several higher education institutions in Catalonia.
The positions taken by the governing bodies of Catalan public universities in line with the theses of the secessionist leaders is once again in the news in the European Parliament. A group of Norwegian professors have carried out a study at the request of the European Parliament to analyse academic freedom in EU member states. In the study, Catalonia does not come out of it well, as the study notes the lack of political neutrality in some of its higher education institutions. A situation that, in fact, Universitaris per la Convivència – another different entity formed by Spanish professors – also denounced last week before the Petitions Committee.
The independent report by Norwegian academics for the European Parliament, entitled State of play of academic freedom in the EU Member States, in the section dedicated to Spain that “the issue of Catalan independence and related political issues have influenced the institutional leadership behaviour of a number of universities” in Catalonia.
Manifestos in favour of imprisoned politicians and against 25 per cent of Castilian
The report notes that “for years” the governing bodies of many of these public higher education institutions in the autonomous region have “adopted political and ideological positions on sensitive issues related to Catalan independence, which raises concerns about freedom of expression”.
Thus, the report echoes the signing of a manifesto in favour of the amnesty of political prisoners of the procés by “five public universities” of Catalonia in 2019; the refusal, by the UAB, to “recognise” a constitutionalist student body linked to Societat Civil Catalana in 2018; and, more recently, the rejection by the governing bodies of Catalonia’s eight public universities of the ruling that requires at least 25% of classes to be taught in Spanish in the Generalitat’s compulsory monolingual Catalan-language education system.
The European Parliament’s independent study “defies political neutrality”.
The independent study by the European Parliament takes up the criticisms raised since the illegal 1-O secession referendum of 2017 by academics, students and Spanish authorities who question this type of stance as “challenging the political neutrality of universities as public institutions”. And it is striking that “the manifesto signed in 2019” – which criticised an alleged “repression” and “authoritarian drift” of the state – “supported” the secession of Catalonia and was handed over to the president of the Generalitat. This, he recalled, prompted a reaction from some 200 university professors, who filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, who considered this to be “a violation of academic freedom and a blatant political exploitation of the universities”.
This discrepancy was also noted when, “in an open letter to the rectors, some 800 professors directed further criticism at the content and nature of the manifesto, rejecting the legitimacy of political positioning on behalf of the entire academic community”.
Court rulings against partisanship
The report also highlights that Catalan universities have not only “confronted academics”, but also “the electoral authorities and the judicial system“, with some of them even being condemned for partisanship, as the judges understood “that university autonomy only covers internal organisational issues”, and not actions that could potentially “limit the constitutional rights of professors and citizens”.
Thus, it is also pointed out that the Central Electoral Board has accused universities of “political partiality during election periods, negatively affecting the democratic representation of ideological diversity in the academic community”.
Several of the facts pointed out were also exposed last week in the European Parliament by Universitaris per la Convivència, an organisation that demands that the EU authorities open an investigation into the matter. The European Parliament’s petitions committee has decided to send a letter to the Spanish Ministry of Universities warning it about the possible violation of fundamental rights and will send a petition to the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, so that “he takes it into account in the report on the rule of law”, according to the committee’s chairwoman, Dolors Montserrat.