Debate meaning academic practice in times environmental crisis, 22 January

How do we, students and scholars of UM, intend to continue, adapt and rethink our academic practice in response to the current state of planetary ecosystems?

With the support of Sustainable UM 2030 and the Department of Literature and Art, Students4Climate will be hosting a public debate on the meaning of academic practice in times of environmental crisis.

When: Wednesday 22 January, 18.30
Where: Franz Palm Lecture Hall, Tongersestraat 53

Confirmed speakers:
Arthur Bribosia (Students4Climate Maastricht)
Prof. Pim Martens (Chair of Sustainable Development at ICIS & Scientivist)
Prof. Peter Møllgaard (Dean of the School of Business and Economics)
Dr. Ceren Pekdemir (Coordinator Sustainable Education UM & Assistant Prof. at ICIS)
Sarah Thin (PhD Researcher at the Faculty of Law & Activist).

Moderated by:
Dr. Miriam Meissner (Assistant Prof. at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)

Environmental sustainability is central to universities’ research agendas and institutional goals. Publications on the topic are proliferating. Few funding calls fail to list sustainability as a criterion of ‘societal relevance.’ At the same time, global emissions keep on rising, as do rates of species extinction as a result of land degradation, pollution, and many other factors. Across the board, scientists are sounding the alarm. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change insists that ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ are required to curtail the negative effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns that, in causing unprecedented biodiversity loss, ‘we’ (that is,
contemporary societies) are ‘eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.’3 Given that time for effective intervention is rapidly running out, the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres stresses that climate change poses a ‘direct existential threat’ that is ‘nearing a point of no return.’

In response to these warnings, some scholars and students are radically changing their modes of civil engagement. They organize and participate in international climate strikes and acts of civil disobedience. In a recent article, scientists urge their colleagues to ‘act on their own warnings’ by joining environmental civil disobedience movements. Other scholars have come together to help plan and scientifically endorse various forms of climate protest. In public statements backing these actions, scholars often explain that they have decided to leave their comfort zones of academic research, writing, and education. They accept the risk that taking political action might undermine their reputation of scientific objectivity and political impartiality. Still others underline that they are not just scholars but humans, too. As such, they feel morally obliged to engage in direct action.

Caught between their scientific grasp of present and impending environmental disasters, norms of scholarly practice, and institutional pressures to remain detached, students and scholars are increasingly having to face up to a pressing question: what is the role of academic practice in an age of environmental crisis? What might or indeed should scholarship be? Is it enough to continue writing, teaching and learning about the issues at stake here? Should this crisis feature in all research and education, given that it has repercussions for all domains of society and will determine students’ futures? If we accept the reality and urgency of this crisis, how can we justify not taking direct action? At the institutional scale, what can universities do to support its students and employees in addressing threats of climate and ecological breakdown? Can and should universities back forms of protest such as the recent national Klimaatstaking (climate strike)? Finally, how might universities navigate the tensions of an increasingly challenging political climate, in which scientific findings on global environmental change are sometimes branded political opinions, rather than rigorously established facts? In addressing these and other related questions, this debate provides a forum for cross-faculty conversation on the meaning of academic practice in times of environmental crisis.

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