Barbara Van Dyck (Dr in Bioengineering, Dept. of Architecture, Urban Development and Spatial Planning, KULeuven [the Catholic University of Leuven], Belgium) has been dismissed by her University because of her solidarity with the activists of the Field Liberation Movement, in the context of an action in Wetteren on May 29th against a field trial of genetically modified potatoes developed within a public/private partnership between the University of Ghent and BASF.
Petition for non-academics is here please sign: http://bit.ly/kNFNOs
On Friday June the 3rd 2011, the Catholic University of Leuven sacked the researcher Dr Barbara Van Dyck because of her public support for the actions of the Field Liberation Front in the context of an action against a genetically modified potato field trial in Wetteren, Belgium, on Sunday May 29th. Whether one agrees with the aims and tactics of this action, the sanction is disproportionate and a breach of academic freedom and freedom of speech. We appeal to academics worldwide to resist this dismissal and to sign this open letter.
No dismissal for reseacher Barbara Van Dyck!
On Friday June the 3rd, we learned that Dr Barbara Van Dyck was sacked... We are shocked by this sanction, because it is disproportionate and a breach of labour law and the principle of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Dr Barbara Van Dyck participated in the action in Wetteren during her private time (on a Sunday) and not during work time. Moreover, she is not dismissed for committing actions or trespassing, but because of her solidarity with the activists and her public support for their actions. We question the the University's reasons for dismissing her.
With this disproportionate sanction, which boils down to Berufsverbot [an order of "professional disqualification" for political reasons], the University breaches one of the core values central to its own mission statements: academic freedom. We would like to remind the authorities that academic freedom does not only imply the possibility to do independent research, but also the individual freedom of the academic to 'take a critical stance towards certain tendencies or parts of society. This individual freedom is the cornerstone of our academic identity' (Rector's speech, opening of the academic year 2003[i]).
A similar reasoning we find in the UNESCO recommendations, par. 26: 'all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience (”¦) They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion (”¦). They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights.’[ii]
Moreover, the University breaches the basic democratic right that is a foundation of our society: freedom of speech. By discharging a researcher for her sympathies with this action, the KULeuven inscribes itself in a new climate of criminalisation of activism, and even the criminalisation of sympathy for activism. She is sanctioned for her open sympathies and solidarity with the Field Liberation Front, not for her deeds.
One does not have to agree with the target and tactics of the action to recognize its broader social relevance: What is socially just and ecologically sustainable agriculture? What role do GMOs play in this and how do we spread research finances in an equitable way over different options? The narrowing down of this action as a deed of violence, shifts the attention from a most necessary social debate.
The presence of scientists in both camps proves that also within the scientific community there is no consensus on the necessity and value of GMOs.
We call on the University authorities to keep its trust in critical reflection and the social commitment of its researchers. We request this dismissal be withdrawn. We call upon the personnel of the KULeuven and the international academic community to protest against this discharge. This case has ramifications that surpass the individual case of Barbara Van Dick, as it is about the future of science (and its link with industry), the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
[i] Rector, Opening speech 2003-2004
[ii] Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, UNESCO, 11/11/97