Statement about Academic Freedom and Political Neutrality by the HSE International Advisory Committee
Our Committee is aware that HSE has not renewed the contracts of certain faculty members known for speaking up against the Russian political authorities. We understand that the non-renewals have been controversial in the press and online. Although the university administration says that these actions were due entirely to faculty’s inadequate research productivity, critics allege that non-renewals were politically motivated, i.e., that they resulted from pressure by the authorities.
We are not in a position to evaluate the two sides’ claims. There is clearly no way that we—who all live outside Russia—can conduct an independent investigation. Moreover, such an investigation would be well beyond our proper role as advisors.
Instead, we would like to state publicly why academic freedom and political neutrality are indispensable principles for a university aspiring to be in the first tier of the world’s research institutions. Simply put, leading universities’ international reputations rest on the quality and novelty of the ideas that they produce. And by its very nature, a new idea is often sharply at odds with orthodoxy, whether social or political. Thus, to ensure that scholars feel free to produce and disseminate new ideas, they must be protected from the backlash that those ideas will inevitably provoke. In particular, scholars must not lose their jobs just because powerful people are offended; the university must be strictly neutral politically in its hiring and firing decisions.
HSE was founded with academic freedom and political neutrality at its heart. A major reason why it quickly joined the ranks of Russia’s top universities is that its administration has cherished and defended these values. We believe that the administration still prizes freedom and neutrality, but, as noted above, we cannot judge whether it has upheld them in this particular case.
Members of HSE International Advisory Committee