Commentary with regard to the debate about Lars Vilks
20 May 2010
In the aftermath of Lars Vilks’ interrupted lecture at the University, many people are questioning how he could have been invited to speak here in the first place; an equal number are demanding that he be given an opportunity to complete his talk.
University officials neither can nor should determine whom the various departments may invite to speak. To do so would be inconsistent with the University’s responsibility to promote free academic expression. It also bears emphasis that the University strives, in its relationship with the extra-University community, for openness and dialogue about topics of current concern.
One of the University’s main undertakings is to pursue new knowledge by testing received wisdom, examining issues from a variety of perspectives and creating opportunities for discussion and debate in a variety of fields. Such activities are of the essence of open academic exchange. In keeping with this, Uppsala University encourages its employees and departments to participate in public dialogue. Arranging seminars and lectures is one way of doing this. The aesthetics section at the Department of Philosophy extended an invitation to the artist Lars Vilks to discuss freedom of expression and the boundaries of art, issues of scholarly interest within the field. Reports in the media that last week’s incident prompted a decision not to invite Vilks to speak at the University again are erroneous; it is up to the departments to decide such matters on the basis of considerations of scholarly relevance.
Needless to say, the escalation of discussion into violence is deplorable. The University, together with the police, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of invited lecturers, as it in fact did in the case in question. The lecture by Vilks was open to the public. Discussion in the media has overlooked the fact that those who were detained were not students at the University. University officials regret that security considerations prevented the discussion in question from continuing but are confident that dialogue about freedom of expression and the boundaries of art will endure at Uppsala University and elsewhere.