Dear Ph.D. candidates, dear guests
Welcome to the university’s anniversary day!
In many parts of the world today, important principles such as academic thinking, democracy and freedom of speech are under constant pressure. Not only in totalitarian regimes, but also in countries in Europe.
In Turkey, academics have been dismissed and expelled from their institutions on the direct orders of the president. This has lead to self-censorship and undermining of academic freedom in the country.
Last year, the Hungarian government proposed new legislation intended to shut down the Central European University in Budapest, a proposal that sparked outrage far beyond the Hungarian borders. This university has a long tradition of educating students, promoting critical thinking and advancing research.
These actions are a reminder of how unacceptable breaches of academic freedom and autonomy are.
There is a growing polarization in Europe, together with an increasing mistrust of science and scholars. Therefore, it is extremely important to stand up for the value of research-based knowledge.
Today marks the 14th anniversary of our entry into the family of Norwegian universities. We succeeded back then because of our determination to always keep the highest possible academic standards and quality of our research.
Since becoming a university, we have grown and strengthened our qualifications on many levels. Today we can celebrate that our academic publishing has reached a level on par with the universities we compare ourselves with.
We are still young, but we have existed long enough to be confident and convinced of our identity as a driving force in the promotion of research-based knowledge and in the process of societal change.
A few weeks ago – in September – the pro rector and I travelled to the University of Salamanca in Spain to sign the Magna Charta Universitatum, along with representatives from 70 universities world wide.
Magna Charta Universitatum is a document that promotes and protects basic principles such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom. It was first signed in Bologna in Italy in 1988 by 430 university rectors from all over the world.
By signing the document, we demonstrate firmly that we stand together with 800 other universities to promote fundamental values and traditions upheld by academic institutions throughout history.
The University of Stavanger supports values such as autonomy of research and freedom of speech. Many of our students and researchers take part in the social debate and thereby contribute to more knowledge and fact-based debates – most recently displayed when several scholars from our Business School took to the stage during the economy festival Kåkånomics here in Stavanger.
The ability to reflect, clarify concepts and think critically is an important response to the so-called fake news, echo chambers and the hateful and polarizing debate climate that has been allowed to flourish. We must protect our shared values by taking the responsibility to participate in the public debate with even greater force in the future.
The values shared by universities all over the world are supported in the values in our own strategy – freedom of expression, integrity, autonomy – and equality.
By far, the majority of the professors at UiS are men, therefore I am glad to see that 28 of the 53 candidates we celebrate today are women. Having said that, we still have a situation where more men than women seek to obtain professorship, and if this trend continues, we have a long way to go before we reach equality between men and women at our university.
In the meantime, I am happy to say that our three national centres are all led by women:
The National IOR Centre of Norway, is led by professor Merete V. Madland. SHARE – Centre for Resilience in Healthcare, is led by professor Karina Aase, and FILIORUM, is led by professor Ingunn Størksen.
These academic leaders are involved in bringing about societal change – in industry, healthcare, kindergarten and school. All three centres are substantially funded by The Research Council of Norway for their excellence. Hopefully they will inspire more women to seek academic power and thereby contribute to further develop our society.
Finally. Today we celebrate that 53 candidates have completed their doctorates since last year's annual celebration. 39 of the doctors are present here today. I congratulate you on having obtained the highest academic degree at the university.
Remember, you are all promoters of research-based knowledge that serves as a counter weight to the increasing polarization and mistrust of science that we see in many countries!
Challenge what is well known and explore the unknown!