When is it legitimate to exclude people and topics from discussions? What are the limits of the freedom of teaching? What are the taboos at Austrian universities? Among other things, these questions were discussed on Monday in the Aula der Wissenschaft. Opinions sometimes diverged about how discourse should be conducted and how universities should be defined in general.
At the center of the debate was the question of whether “cancel culture” endangers science. “Cancel Culture” is understood to mean the culture of censorship, whereby unpopular opinions are suppressed. On the podium were Keya Baier, Vice Chairwoman of the Austrian Students’ Union (ÖH), Reinhard Heinisch from the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Salzburg, Lamiss Khakzadeh from the Institute for Public Law, Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Innsbruck and Oliver Vitouch, Rector of the University of Klagenfurt ( switched on).
“Cancel culture is a term that is dealt with very quickly if one no longer feels that one’s attitude is taken seriously. Even if the attitude that one takes is discriminatory after all,” said Baier. As an example, she cited the testimony of a participating student. She stated that she felt linguistically restricted by the gender regulations of her institute.
The term “cancel culture” is also a “double-edged sword” for Vitouch. Where there actually is “cancel culture”, he considers it problematic, but the term is also used to accuse right-wing movements of “political leftists” that they are undermining freedom of speech and establishing new types of censorship so that people can participate Right-wing conservative positions at universities are no longer heard “. Not only in countries like Turkey and Belarus, but also within the EU, he identified “worrying upheavals” when it comes to right-wing populist governments trying to bring universities under their control.
Subjectivity as a problem
Vitouch saw problems in the local discourse, among other things, when counter-arguments are replaced by subjective concern. The problem with subjectivity is that everyone feels discriminated in some way or another at a certain point in time. If discussions were to take place only when nobody felt subjectively discriminated against, this would ultimately lead to “silence”. The desire for a non-discriminatory society is therefore also an unattainable goal for him.
However, Baier saw it differently: “A university in particular should be a place of exchange, critical thinking, curiosity, knowledge and science, where everyone can feel comfortable and can learn and teach freely” – even if this is not currently the case Fall.
Khakzadeh, on the other hand, defined the university as a “place where I should learn to conduct a university discourse”. The decisive factor is not just feeling good, but also verifiable statements and comprehensible sources. The methodology is a “certain corrective” when it comes to drawing the limits of freedom of teaching. In her opinion, the difficulty often lies in classifying some groups as vulnerable and “protecting” them from the discourse. Rather, universities would have to create a space for discourse and give the participants appropriate tools for appropriate behavior.
Heinisch considered the “unpopular speech” to be particularly worthy of protection. “You have to be able to discuss everything from right to left,” he said. Limits are reached when violence, oppression and anti-democracy are called for. Internationality and diversity based on life experience are particularly advantageous for the discourse.