Last Anniversary Celebration of the Institute for Advanced Social Research, IASR: Jorma Sipilä on Academic Freedom in the IASR

Our academic freedom

At the IASR we really enjoy academic freedom, being able to follow the prestigious and fruitful norm of scientific research. Actually, declaration of academic freedom has always been the first message, which the new members receive in Risto’s introductory speech. Of course, we have no difficulty adapting to it.

It is customary to say that freedom requires responsibility. How about our responsibilities?

First, our responsibility to the university and academic community: Despite the freedom we enjoy, we are hard-working people who write publications, raise the university’s reputation and develop into better researchers and members of academic community. It is reasonable to assume that the university is satisfied. Production targets have been met.

But what about our responsibility to the society, which ultimately creates the opportunities for our activities: What would we say to people who maliciously suspect that the idea of academic freedom serves as a justification for allowing scientists to settle in their ivory towers.

In fact, all of us do not want to live in ivory towers. We are individuals who use our freedom in most different ways. Some are busy with making a smooth career in the mainstream, but some others want to face most difficult intellectual challenges. Some boldly embark in interdisciplinary projects, rarely receiving great rewards for their efforts. Besides, scientists belong to very different academic communities. In sciences many researchers have their hands full with experiments, while in applied social sciences we are expected to take into account the needs of professional communities, public institutions, and civil society. These days the university itself does not care much about providing public services to citizens.

How do we justify our research in the daily life of the university? The most common argument to be heared is that my research topic is new, it has not been studied before. Scientific communities love novelties. However, there may be a contradiction between human importance and novelty. it is possible that most of the themes, which are really important to human beings, have been studied before.

Could we have more in-depth discussion about why we are doing the research we do? In addition to asking where you are going to publish this article, could we also ask if you want citizens to get acquainted with your research? Are you going to do something to help them to approach your findings?

Today I heard a wise advice from Arto Mustajoki, the professor of Russian language, who has been very successful in publishing to the general public: “Information must be in such a form that the reader can tell its contents to someone else.” So let us be free and individual scientists but think of others as well!