Letters of Intent received in 2019

LoI 2021-2087
Academic freedom in astronomy in a time of equity and diversity

Date: 18 August 2021 to 20 August 2021
Location: Busan, Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
Contact: Martín López Corredoira (fuego.templado@gmail.com)
Coordinating division: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Other divisions: Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
Chair of SOC: Martín López Corredoira (Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias)
Chair of LOC: Beatriz Villarroel (Nordic Institute of Theoretical Physics, Stockholm University)

 

Topics

- The importance of diversity programs.
- Defending the freedom of academic thought (and expression).

 

Rationale

Academic freedom is a fundamental building block in science, which has brought humanity many discoveries and enriched our intellectual life with innumerable new ideas. Many disciplines can only progress through the process of critical thinking. However, academia can be influenced by ideologies, as was the case of the rejection of ideas in conflict with the dominant orthodox religion in the Middle Ages, or in the 20th century when it was subject to political control in totalitarian regimes such as the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, or even in modern democratic countries as for instance Senator McCarthy's prosecution of communists in the USA of the 1950s. As of 2019, we are currently being exposed to various forms of feminism through expanded equity & diversity programs. The field of astronomy has been particularly enthusiastic in this effort through e.g. specialized conferences dedicated to equity and diversity, and being in the media spotlight through events like #shirtgate and #astroSH.

The original goal of the equity programs was to create an equal and diverse environment irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or nationality. However, the original, honourable fight for equal rights has been replaced with a fight for equal opportunities, and some of the current efforts may lead to a new type of injustice. Scientists who directly question the objectives of certain activities within the equity and diversity programs have been socially excluded, lost their job positions, or faced other severe professional repercussions. This has severe implications for freedom of speech, which is necessarily reduced when critiques of fundamental ideological assumptions are disallowed.

Within this symposium, we intend to conduct the first honest and open discussion regarding how to obtain equity and diversity in science – without sacrificing the core academic traditions of freedom of expression and critical inquiry. We encourage both people who support in the current-day gender equity programs, as well as those opposed to such programs, to join in for a Special Session.