Confronting injustice

June 13, 2003

Tapera Kapuya's chilling account (Opinion, THES , June 6) of his experience of the barriers to academic freedom in Zimbabwe is deeply moving. Our sympathies go out to him, as they do to all Zimbabweans affected by the current crisis. But his suggestion that the Association of Commonwealth Universities distances itself from what is going on demands a response.

It is important to note that the ACU is a voluntary organisation of universities and that its strategies are informed and determined by those universities - not by the secretariat. The views of the membership are articulated by its representative council, which, in turn, is deeply committed to understanding the complex worlds that our different member universities inhabit. For the ACU, this commitment is a prerequisite to resolving problems.

In the particular case of Zimbabwe, far from looking the other way, the ACU is doing what it has always done: providing an environment in which a deeper understanding of the realities of contemporary higher education systems can take root and be sustained through the vehicles of debate and the free trade in ideas among its members. The ACU's aim is not to impose a particular view or threaten a specific action but to support universities throughout the Commonwealth as each, in its own particular context, strives to maintain values that are held in common.

Mr Kapuya appears to find it distasteful that we should welcome our Zimbabwean colleagues to our forthcoming conference in Belfast. In our view, this is precisely what we should be doing - not least because many of the issues relating to good governance, the role of universities in divided societies and the concept of universities as the conscience of society feature on the conference agenda ( www.acu.ac.uk/belfast2003 ).

So important are these issues that they, and a host of other related questions (such as, should a university care more about its national or its global reputation, should universities have a human rights statement in their constitutions) will be addressed at a one-day conference in London in November.

If any of your readers would like to contribute to or attend this discussion, I'd be delighted to hear from them.

Michael Gibbons
Secretary general
Association of Commonwealth Universities

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